Who Benefits from France’s Hung Parliament?

In his bid to prevent a Le Pen victory at any cost, Emmanuel Macron has inadvertently empowered the other anti-establishment force.

Emmanuel Macron’s political strategy has backfired, and his leftist counterpart has demanded his resignation if the French president doesn’t comply with their demands. He is now trapped in a situation of his own making. 

There’s a statue in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada that has an impression on me from the time I was a child. Called the “Miracle Mile,” it commemorates a legendary race held in 1954 at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium between the two men at the time known for breaking the four-minute mile: England’s Roger Bannister and Australia’s John Landy. At the very end of the race, Landy, who was in the lead, looked over one shoulder for his opponent, who proceeded to blow past him on the other and win. “Always run your own race, right to the end,” my late, sports specialist father told me as we stared at the monument. “Because that’s the only thing that you can really control.” Too bad that Macron didn’t learn the same lesson. 

Instead, having failed to secure enough votes in the first round of voting based on his platform and record, with a third-place finish for Team Macron’s establishment “Together” party, he abandoned his own strategy and started looking for support elsewhere.

Macron and his Prime Minister Gabriel Attal decided that the anti-establishment, right-wing National Rally party – which won the popular vote in the first round – had to be denied a majority in the second round at all costs. They believed that by strategically supporting candidates in districts where a split with the anti-establishment left would favor the National Rally, they could block its parliamentary leader, Marine Le Pen. And the anti-establishment, left-wing New Popular Front coalition and its de facto leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, agreed to collaborate.

They formed an alliance of losers to defeat the leading candidate. Paris is hosting the Olympic Games later this month. It would be like if all the losers in the women’s gymnastics event were allowed to decide that they’d pick one single loser among them to go up against Simone Biles – and then give all their loser point scores to that individual to defeat her. 

However, this strategy resulted in more districts where voters only had a choice between the two anti-establishment candidates – on the left and the right – than districts where voters could choose between Team Macron and Team Le Pen. 

The outcome? A hung parliament with no single party holding a majority of 289 seats. The New Popular Front leftists hold 182 seats, Macron’s “Together” has 168, and National Rally has 143. For any party to achieve a parliamentary majority on any given issue, they will face a significant challenge. To illustrate the difficulty of this task, Team Macron members were already criticizing their leftist counterparts for opportunism and refusing to cooperate with them, even before the results were announced. 

As is customary, Macron’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has offered his resignation, but he may remain in his position until a new government is formed. The nature and leadership of this new government are uncertain because relationships built on desperation and strategic alliances – or even temporary partnerships for specific votes – are not known for their success. 

Already, Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the bloc within the New Popular Front with the most seats, has urged Macron to offer his team the prime ministership – or else resign himself. Empowered by Macron’s strategy, Melenchon is already making demands, suggesting he wants to see Attal’s belongings packed up and his clothes thrown out on the lawn. 

All of this was done to defeat the anti-establishment right – which still managed to win the popular vote. The French voted for one outcome and received the opposite. It’s worth considering what this means for democracy and the idea that government represents the will of the people. When looking at the popular vote in the second round – the total number of individual French ballots cast – it was actually a landslide victory for National Rally with over 10 million votes. The New Popular Front and Macron’s Together parties received around 6 million votes each. 

There’s still much uncertainty, but one thing is clear: the French have revoked Macron’s and the establishment’s unchecked power. They can no longer simply push through legislation with a majority. The French have expressed their dissatisfaction with the establishment, and this has been confirmed beyond doubt. This represents a significant setback for Macron, who was so focused on the right that he ended up being overtaken by the anti-establishment left.