Mon Jun 6th, 2022 at 09:16:03 PM EST
Last April, we've had the two rounds of French Presidential elections. It was presented as a cliffhanger between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and Extreme-Right challenger Marine Le Pen. In the end, it wasn't even close: On April 24, Macron was re-elected 58% to 42% for Marine Le Pen.
But what about that so-called "third round" I've been mentioning since my first diary on the subject?
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 12 (first round) and 19 (second round). Even within the "presidential" regime of the French Fifth Republic, the president needs a majority at the Parliament to support his Cabinet: the National Assembly can overthrow the Cabinet with a censure motion.
This is where things can get interesting: when the president fails to get or looses the majority at the National Assembly, he has no choice but to appoint a leader from the new parliamentary majority as Prime Minister - a configuration called "cohabitation".
Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger
"Cohabitations" happened a couple of times over the past forty years: the most important lasted five years (1997-2002), when then-president Jacques Chirac appointed Socialist leader Lionel Jospin as Prime Minister. Even though the president and the PM were on opposite sides, the country was effectively run by the PM and the parliamentary majority. There is relatively little the president can do in that case, other than the option to call snap elections and hope to get a majority this time (and even then, he is only allowed to do that once a year at most, per the Constitution),
A matter of calendar
Since 1958, the presidential term was seven years. In May 1997, Jacques Chirac, who had won the presidency two years prior, in May 1995, organized a referendum to reduce the duration to five years. At the same time, he called for snap elections, hoping to enlarge his majority at the National Assembly; the maneuver backfired and the PS won a majority. Chirac had no other choice than to appoint L.Jospin as PM on June 2nd, 1997.
Since then, the presidential elections have always taken place in May (2007, 2012, 2017 and 2022), and the parliamentary elections the following June. And each time, the voters gave the newly elected president the much needed majority at the National Assembly: it worked for Sarkozy (2007), Hollande (2012) and even Macron (2017), even though his new party, La République En Marche, had only be in existence for a few months.
But this year, there was a snag: Election Day in France is always on a Sunday and two Sundays in May of 2022 were public holidays: May 1st (Labor Day) and May 8th (End of WW II). So the Constitutional Council decided to run the presidential elections in April instead: April 10 and 24, even though Macron's term ended on May 13. Macron eventually won re-election but this year, the parliamentary elections are not happening until next Sunday, a good seven weeks after Macron's victory and enough time for that post-election halo to fade away.
A new Left Alliance
Meanwhile, Mélenchon, who was decidedly thinking ahead, has used his own thrust from his 3rd place at the presidential election to try to organize a left wing coalition, sort of similar to the one that brought Mitterrand to power more than forty years ago. Early May the NUPES (New Ecologic and Social People's Union) was created despite remaining disagreement on programs, combining Mélenchon's France Unbowed (LFI), the Socialist Party (PS), the Communist Party (PCF) and the Greens (EELV). The basic aim was to run a unique left wing candidate in each constituency, to maximize the chances, given the FPTP French system.
Should the NUPES alliance win a majority, Macron would have to appoint a NUPES leader, most likely Mélenchon himself, as PM. Mélenchon early on sowed the seeds of that idea, calling on the voters to "elect [him] Macron's Prime Minister".
Parliamentary elections are based on constituencies (577 total, include 12 for French citizens abroad). As a recap from my diary ten years ago:
To win on the first round, a candidate needs an absolute (50%+1) majority. In most constituencies, a second round takes place one week later, between all candidates having received a number of votes representing at least 12.5% of registered voters. This means that more than two candidates can run in the second round (unlike in the presidential election). In that case, a plurality of votes is enough to win the seat.
As I noted then, a party can secure a majority of seats with only 30% of the votes. Due to that system, it is very difficult for pollsters to get even a rough estimates of the projected number of seats, based on the voting intentions. Still many pollsters were predicting an absolute majority to LREM, Macron's party, but a funny thing happened on the way to the voting booth: until recently, LREM had done very little campaigning, being all wrapped up in the appointment of the Elisabeth Borne cabinet.
During that time, NUPES, the left wing alliance, has hit the ground running and its candidates have been campaigning for over a month now; to a great effect: pollsters projections now show than LREM may not get an absolute majority, even if all are predicting a plurality.
Needless to say, alarm bells have been ringing all over Macronland: Jupiter himself reportedly stopped phoning Putin to instruct his lieutenants to shift gears and go on the offensive in the media. How will that play out? We'll see next Sunday for the first round.