French voters were casting their ballots on Sunday in the second and final round of legislative elections that could see President Emmanuel Macron lose control of the National Assembly and face a resurgent leftwing opposition likely to constrain his reformist agenda.
An Ipsos poll published on Friday gave Macron’s Ensemble (Together) alliance of centrist parties between 265 and 305 seats in the assembly, against 140 to 180 for the left-green coalition known as Nupes — the New Ecological and Social Popular Union — brought together by far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
A party or alliance needs to win 289 seats in the 577-seat assembly for a straight majority, and if Macron falls short he may have to seek the support of the conservative Les Républicains (LR) to pass legislation, including his plan to increase the official retirement age from 62 to 65 in a reform of the costly state pension system.
The campaign for the legislative elections has been marked by apathy on the part of voters — more than half failed to vote in the first round — and exchanges of insults between Macron and his ministers on one side and his leftwing challengers on the other.
Macron has warned of disorder and deadlock if Mélenchon wins control of the assembly, while interior minister Gérald Darmanin called the veteran leftist politician a “sinister agitator” who would ruin France. Mélenchon and his team have hit back, accusing the government of harbouring secret plans to increase VAT.
“The real chaos is Macron,” Mélenchon said.
Several ministers standing in the election are at risk of losing their seats — including Clément Beaune, the Europe minister and confidant of Macron — and if they do lose they will have to give up their ministerial jobs under guidelines set by the president.
In one constituency in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where voting is held earlier than in mainland France, Justine Benin, junior minister for the sea, has already been beaten by leftwing candidate Christian Baptiste.
The far-right Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen, who was beaten in April by Macron in the presidential election, did well in the first round of voting last weekend and is forecast to win 20 to 50 seats, compared to just eight back in 2017.
The LR, which won 112 seats five years ago and had been the main opposition in the outgoing National Assembly, has lost support and is expected to win 60 to 80 seats, according to the Ipsos poll.
By winning in April, Macron became the first French president in two decades to secure a second term, but he rules over an increasingly disaffected and polarised country in which nearly 60 per cent of voters chose a candidate of the extreme right or the extreme left in the first round of the presidential election.