2022 French Legislative Elections: The Surprise Electoral Success of Le Pen

“We saved the country from a head-of-state beyond all control.”
– Marine Le Pen

The recent French legislative elections have revealed to the European continent the true extent
of the fragmentation of the political landscape in France. There is undoubtedly something being set in motion here. While this may also hint at significant political shifts in the future for the French nation, there are nevertheless fewer and fewer voters this time around, as the turnout was much lower than usual. As things currently stand, Emmanuel Macron can no longer rule with an absolute majority, and the French opposition has grown exponentially in the number of seats that they hold respectively, with Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party being the big winner of the evening, with the most significant number of seats being gained.

It had already been expected that Emmanuel Macron’s electoral alliance Ensemble would fail to achieve an absolute majority in the final round of these parliamentary elections. Still, the fact that this prediction was off by 44 seats against Macron indicates a new political shockwave in France. Following the results, there were already talks predicting the end of “Macronism”. Since numerous office-holders who had represented Macron’s En Marche movement since its formation were voted out of the National Assembly in their respective constituencies, the assessment above of Macron’s political weakening is no exaggeration. For example, even the parliamentary whip of Macron’s party, Christoph Castaner – who was, until two years ago, France’s Interior Minister – was voted out of

The French people’s refusal to vote in as large numbers as before also factors in as an apparent show of no confidence in Macron’s presidency. A mere 47.5% voter turnout seemingly showcases a public distrust in the ruling status quo. The political scientist and best-selling author Jérôme Fourquet even described this election as an expression of a “republican crisis of faith”.

Le Pen Shocks France with Strong Results

The most significant opposition following the results, with 131 seats, is the political alliance NUPES, led by the radically left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon. However, it must be kept in mind that
expectations had been even higher here for him in this election. The situation was quite different for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), which is regularly confronted with the problem of forming alliances in local constituencies, making the party yet another victim of absolute majority voting. Thus, despite the respectable results in the previous presidential election earlier, Le Pen only won eight seats during the last French parliamentary elections in 2017.

Therefore, gaining 89 deputy mandates in this election is all the more remarkable, representing an elevenfold increase.

“We have made Emmanuel Macron a minority president, and by doing so, are saving the country from a head-of-state beyond all control,” Le Pen commented to a crowd of her supporters following the election results. Moreover, Le Pen’s success is by no means limited to RN’s traditional strongholds, which were, up to now, mainly located in the north and south of the country. This election also saw RN gaining support in the western part of France. Collaboration with Conservatives to be Expected

Macron is the first French president in over 30 years who is now dependent on the votes of other political camps to continue with his work in government. As things stand now, Macron will likely seek the possibility of collaborating with the conservatives of Les Républicains for his second term as President of France.

Since the principle of political cohabitation – i.e. a two-headed executive made up of the President and Prime Minister – prevails in France, it should hardly come as a surprise if the conservatives demand the office of prime minister in return for their collaboration with Macron. However, in terms of democratic procedures, this scenario would have a certain “aftertaste” since Les Républicains not only hold significantly fewer seats than NUPES and RN but also because their presidential candidate, Valérie Pécresse, lost to Macron and Le Pen with a mere 4.8 %.

No Seats for Zemmour

The nationalist Reconquête party led by Eric Zemmour could not win even a single seat in the National Assembly. This factor likely strengthened Le Pen’s claim to leadership within the French right. With ten deputies attributed to the Divers Droite and one seat for Droite Souverainiste, there are even deputies in the French Parliament now who do not sit on a defined place within the left-right spectrum. Ten seats also went to the Régionaliste.

One can agree with the statement from the German news outlet “WELT “that reads:

“Between many losers, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is the real winner of this election.”

Regarding the future of French politics, we can now look forward with much interest to the formation and subsequent work of this new government and the re-election of half of the Senate seats that will take place in autumn 2023.

The composition of the Senate via an electoral assembly is not directly democratic. Still, we will see Le Pen’s party much more strongly represented in this electoral assembly than it has been following these parliamentary election results.

With regards to the European right, the election in France has undoubtedly had a signalling effect in the country by showing that there are now multiple shifts in the French political system that make a right-wing nationalist critique of the liberal regime a realistic alternative for otherwise dissatisfied non-voters.

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