FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Just a week ago, after the first round of France’s two-stage parliamentary elections, it seemed inevitable that the far-right National Rally (NR) party would take control of the country’s 577-seat National Assembly. What happened this last weekend stunned even the veteran observers of French politics.

In the second round of voting, which includes all candidates that polled at least 12.5 percent in the first round, the hastily assembled coalition of left-wing parties called the New Popular Front (NPF) is projected to corner the largest bloc of parliamentary seats. The NPF, in the intervening week, cobbled together a strategic alliance between the hard Left, the Socialists and the Greens. Over 200 candidates in districts with three or more runoff candidates withdrew from the race to improve the chances for stopping NR candidates.

By the initial projections, the five-party NPF is expected to win 172 to 192 seats. Macron’s centrist Ensemble bloc performed better than expected, standing to win between 150 to 170 seats to constitute the second largest bloc in the National Assembly. The far-right NR, led by the charismatic Marine Le Pen, fell to third place, winning between 132 to 152 seats.

The hard Left populist France Unbowed party will have the largest representation of about 80 seats. This party is led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, a three-time presidential candidate. Melenchon has declared his party will not deal with Macron.

The New Popular Front coalition calls up vivid historical imagery. In the 1932 elections, the coalition of left-wing parties called the Popular Front successfully stopped the right-wing parties. Many of the right-wing politicians defeated in that elections later formed the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis.

Had the NR won an outright parliamentary majority, it would have reversed standing policies regarding immigrants and French support for Ukraine. It would have been the first time since 1932 that the right-wing coalition came to the brink of taking power.

While the second round of voting pushed back the challenge posed by the NR, it is still a defeat for Macron. The projected results show that Macron and his allies will lose a third of the seats they held before snap elections were called.

The fact that the left-wing coalition will constitute the largest bloc in the National Assembly is hardly reassuring for Macron. The leftist parties ran on a platform of social spending that will upset the centrists’ policy agenda of fiscal prudence.

More important, the sharp three-way split among French voters threatens to make France ungovernable. The centrists are about as reluctant to form a coalition government that includes the left-wing coalition. The repulsion is mutual.

The only thing that is clear so far is that the NR is kept out of power. How a new parliamentary majority might be formed is another question.

One nightmare outcome has been replaced by another. The market is actually more fearful of the policy agenda of the leftist coalition than it is of the rightist challengers. Any indication that Macron intends to cohabit with the leftists will send shockwaves through the market and make the French economy untenable.

Recall that time when Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand won the French presidency on the platform of nationalizing the banking system. Hours after he took power, the Socialist president drastically reversed his position as capital fled the economy. The speed of capital flight, abetted by the dawn of the new information technology revolution, stunned the leftist politicians holding on to arcane economic dogma.

If Macron had his way, he would try to carve out a technocratic leadership for the National Assembly. While that might be possible, it is politically fraught. In the last three years of his term, Macron will be hemmed in by the articulate extremes. A left-wing leader, in the wake of last Sunday’s vote, is already calling for Macron to resign.

Fortunately, in the French system of government, a strong presidency is installed for a fixed term. That frees the institution from the often swirling ideological tides at the National Assembly.

After the strong right-wing surge in the European parliamentary elections last month, the NR appears to have lost steam. Le Pen will likely contend the presidential elections as she, and her father before her, had regularly done. The populist left-wing leader Melenchon will also likely contend. This likelihood will improve the chances for centrist personalities like Macron to access the presidency and provide clear-sighted leadership for a nation wedded to its political passions.

Last Sunday’s elections may have staved off the challenge from the hard-right, but it has also produced the perfect formula for political gridlock. An ungovernable France worries her closest European partners.

France has the worst debt profile among the Eurozone economies. The hard-nosed solutions required to ensure fiscal sustainability will certainly be unpopular – as Macron has understood only too well in his tenure. Any swing rightwards or leftwards will further worsen an already perilous fiscal situation.

With Macron in charge, France has remained staunchly committed to the European economic community. Although hobbled by the three-way split produced by the last elections, France’s neighbors are at least assured Paris will continue marching in step with her partners.

Had the rightwing emerged dominant, France would have withdrawn from the NATO-led effort to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion. Vladimir Putin would have preferred Le Pen won.

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