November 29, 2022

Alarm bells for Macron as left gains in polls

France's President Emmanuel Macron needs a parliamentary majority to push through his reforms


France’s President Emmanuel Macron needs a parliamentary majority to push through his reforms – Copyright AFP Hector RETAMAL

Adam PLOWRIGHT and Baptiste BECQUART

France’s rejuvenated left-wing parties appear to be gaining ground on President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist allies ahead of parliamentary elections later this month, raising fears for the ruling party that it may fail to secure a majority.

A new poll, published late Wednesday by the Ifop-Fiducial group, suggested Macron’s Ensemble (“Together”) coalition would win 275-310 seats in the vote, possibly below the 289 needed for a majority.

The first round will be held on June 12 and the second one week later on June 19. It is only then that the shape of the new parliament will be clear. 

A new grouping of left-wing parties led by hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was seen making major gains with 170-205 seats, the poll suggested. 

“We’re taking it seriously because in the media and in the polls the only person who exists, apart from the presidential majority, is Jean-Luc Melenchon,” senior ruling party MP Aurore Berge told France 2 television on Thursday.

She said Melenchon’s new “Nupes” coalition, which includes the Greens, Socialists and Communists, was the only “strong and credible” alternative. 

But if voters failed to give Macron a majority following his re-election on April 24, it would represent a “major destabilisation of politics in our country for years to come,” she warned.

France has not had a president and a parliamentary majority from different parties since 1997-2002 when right-wing president Jacques Chirac found himself working with Socialist premier Lionel Jospin.

A constitutional change in 2000 was meant to put an end to this sort of political gridlock by moving the parliamentary elections to immediately after the presidential ones.

A new poll Friday by the BVA group found that only 35 percent of voters wanted Macron to have a majority, however, reflecting the sharply fractured nature of the electorate.

– ‘Real hope’ –

Macron defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election on April 24, winning a second five-year term.

Although he will have a free hand in foreign policy whatever the outcome of the parliamentary polls, his domestic agenda of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age hinges on the vote.

Melenchon, a former Trotskyist who heads the France Unbowed party, has a radically different programme that calls for lowering the retirement age to 60, wealth taxes, and hiking the minimum wage by 15 percent.

An average of polls, as calculated by the Politico website, still suggests Macron would win a majority if the vote were held today and surveys remain unreliable, some experts say.

Current projections give the left almost no chance of winning an absolute majority and forming a government.

But at a election rally on Wednesday evening, Melenchon talked up the chances of the left, which was unable to agree a common candidate for the presidential election. 

“We’ve come together to say to the country ‘we are an alternative if you’ve understood that things can’t carry on the way they are,” he said in front of 1,500 people in Paris. 

He is hoping that the left’s promise of more social spending and environmental protections, as well as anger over rising prices caused by the war in Ukraine, will lead supporters to turn out.

“If people think we can win, they’ll go out to vote in their loads, their bunches, their carriages,” the charismatic 70-year-old told the room to applause.

“There’s real hope,” Socialist party head Olivier Faure told AFP recently. 

Macron’s LREM party rolled out a new online poster campaign on Wednesday, saying people should not be “dupes” about “Nupes”.

– ‘Fragile’ –

Polls suggest Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party would make gains to around 25-49 seats if the vote were held today, while the traditional rightwing Republicans party could see their presence shrink to 39-62 seats.

Brice Teinturier, a political scientist and head of the Ipsos polling group, warned Thursday about the difficulties of making projections in terms of the number of seats of each grouping.

French people were showing little appetite for the campaign, which made high abstention rates likely, and the modelling by polling groups was highly uncertain.

“You can have 40-50 seats which change hands simply because you have one or two points more or less (of the vote), or if you have an abstention rate that changes,” he told France Inter radio.

“We’re speculating about things that are very fragile,” he said. 

The new polling by the BVA group on Friday showed said that only 38 percent of French voters were following the campaign. /ach