French Left Wins Parliamentary Majority in Upset, Leaving Government Formation Uncertain

France’s recent parliamentary election has resulted in a surprising victory for a broad leftist coalition, securing the most seats and preventing the far right from gaining power. This outcome leaves France in an unprecedented situation with no dominant political bloc in parliament, a scenario uncommon in Europe but previously unseen in modern French history.

While a fragmented parliament is not unusual in Europe, France has never experienced this in its recent past. This leads the country into uncharted territory, requiring tense negotiations for forming a new government and appointing a prime minister who focuses on domestic policy and shares power with the president.

Macron’s centrist alliance secured second place in Sunday’s runoff for the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament. Both the centrists and leftists campaigned against the far right, benefiting from candidates in three-way races dropping out to support the candidate considered most likely to defeat the far-right candidate. The far-right party finished in third place, despite a substantial increase in its number of seats.

No clear figure has emerged as a potential future prime minister.

Macron can propose a candidate, but their appointment requires parliamentary majority support. Macron has stated he will wait before deciding his next steps and will attend a NATO summit in Washington this week. Newly elected legislators begin their work on Monday, with their first session scheduled for July 18.

Three major political blocs have emerged, none holding a majority of at least 289 seats out of 577. Current results show just over 180 seats for the New Popular Front leftist coalition, 160 for Macron’s Together for the Republic centrist coalition, and over 140 for the far-right National Rally party.

The National Assembly is the most important of France’s two parliamentary houses. It holds the final say in the lawmaking process over the Senate, which is dominated by conservatives.

The divided lower house necessitates lawmakers to build consensus across parties to agree on government positions and a legislative agenda. France’s fractured politics and deep divisions on issues like taxes, immigration, and Mideast policy make this particularly challenging.

The results indicate that Macron’s centrist allies will likely be unable to implement their pro-business proposals, such as their promise to overhaul unemployment benefits. Passing a budget could also become more difficult.

Macron may seek a deal with more moderate elements of the left. France lacks a tradition of such arrangements, so these negotiations, if they occur, are expected to be difficult and could result in an informal and fragile alliance.

Macron has stated he will not work with the hard-left France Unbowed party, but he could potentially extend a hand to other parties within the New Popular Front: the Socialists and the Greens. However, they may decline this offer.

His government recently suspended a decree that would have reduced workers’ rights to unemployment benefits, seen as a gesture toward the left.

Some Macron allies are advocating for forming a government around the centrists and the conservative Republicans, who, together with their allies, came in fourth with over 60 seats. However, this grouping would still require support from additional lawmakers.

The left has been plagued by divisions, particularly following the October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and other leaders of the hard-left France Unbowed party have faced sharp criticism from more moderate leftists regarding their stance on the conflict. Hard-left politicians, who have accused Israel of pursuing genocide against Palestinians, have been accused of antisemitism, allegations they vehemently deny.

In last month’s elections for the Senate, the Socialists ran independently. However, Macron’s call for an early parliamentary election brought leftist leaders together to form the New Popular Front.

Their joint platform pledges to raise the minimum monthly salary from 1,400 to 1,600 euros ($1,515 to $1,735), reverse Macron’s pension reform that increased the retirement age from 62 to 64, and freeze food and energy prices. These promises have raised concerns among financial markets.

Mélenchon has declared that the leftist alliance is “ready to govern.” However, he is unlikely to be appointed prime minister, as Macron refuses to work with him, and Mélenchon’s coalition has not yet proposed him or anyone else for the position. New Popular Front leaders have indicated that further internal discussions are needed.

The 72-year-old founder of France Unbowed is disliked by many moderates and often perceived as authoritarian. A skilled politician and gifted orator, Mélenchon has been a prominent figure on the French left, initially within the Socialist Party. He founded France Unbowed in 2016 and was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2017 and 2022.

Political rivals have argued that the left’s victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections stemmed more from fear of the far right than from any attraction to Mélenchon or his party.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal offered his resignation on Monday, but Macron instead requested him to remain “temporarily” after the election results left the government in limbo. Attal has stated he can remain in his position until the upcoming Paris Olympics or as long as necessary.

For now, Attal’s government will handle day-to-day management. Macron’s office has indicated he will “wait for the new National Assembly to organize itself” before making decisions on a new government.

There is no set timeline for when Macron must name a prime minister, and no firm rule requires him to choose someone from the largest party or bloc in parliament.

The president’s term extends until 2027, and he has stated he will not step down. Without a majority and limited possibility of implementing his agenda, Macron emerges from the election weakened.

However, under France’s Constitution, he retains power over foreign policy, European affairs, and defense, and is responsible for negotiating and ratifying international treaties. The president is also the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces and holds the nuclear codes.

The prime minister is accountable to parliament, leads the government, and introduces bills. The new prime minister might be unable or unwilling to seriously challenge Macron’s authority in defense and foreign policy.