The French electoral system is a tangle that sometimes encourages all kinds of nonsense and contradictions. For example, voting four times in two months, twice to elect a president and another two to elect Parliament, and the result being the opposite. Or support a candidate to preside over the country and two weeks later have to vote for another who is hated but who is the lesser evil, because in the double-round system the two most voted are classified. Or that an applicant is about to reach the Elysee and then has almost no deputies in the Assembly.

It happened in the recent presidential elections in April with the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen and, now, in the legislative elections whose first round is being held today, it may be the case that the French elect a Parliament that makes it difficult for the president to that they themselves voted for two months ago. Or that a candidate who was eliminated in the first electoral round ends up being prime minister: Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

In this uncertain and surreal context, France returns to the polls. Macron, re-elected president in April, could find himself with an impossible scenario to manage if the coalition he leads, Ensemble, does not obtain a majority, as in fact the polls suggest. These place him in a tie with the left-wing group, Nupes, headed by Mélenchon, leader of rebellious France.

If Macron loses his current absolute majority in the National Assembly (289 of the 577 seats), he would have serious problems applying his reforms during his second and last term in the Elysee. Abstention, which was already a record in the presidential elections, could exceed 50% in these elections, thus revealing the weariness of the electorate.

“The absolute majority is in danger and a fragmented Assembly would generate a lot of political instability at such a critical geopolitical moment,” explains Alfonso Muerza, director of political marketing at the International University of Valencia.

“I want to alert the French to the importance of the decisions they are going to make. The election of the deputies is decisive. The fate of France and the daily life of each one will depend on the balances that are designed in the Assembly. That is why these days are an important moment for France,” Macron himself warned a few days ago.

The one who shakes the polls this time is not Marine Le Pen but the leader of the extreme left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, one of the great surprises of this electoral spring in four rounds, the protagonist of these legislative elections. “He was not invited to the party just two months ago and it was not expected that he could have the weight that he has, to the point that there is talk that he can be prime minister,” recalls Muerza.

At 70, he ran for president in one last attempt before leaving politics. Against all odds, he came just one point behind Marine Le Pen in the first round of elections. He did not qualify but he is the leader with the most votes in major cities like Marseille or Toulouse, in university centers and in the most emaciated neighborhoods of the Parisian outskirts and those with an immigrant majority. He has become an electoral phenomenon.

The candidate has managed to unite all those disappointed voters with a Macron whom they accuse of being haughty and distant from street problems, and in these legislative elections he has achieved something unusual such as uniting the left in a single candidacy: the Nupes, the coalition of the Rebellious France, the Ecologists, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party.

“If this group is the most voted, it will ask to become the prime minister. There would be a cohabitation that is not frequent and that would complicate things a lot, as it would force Macron to seek specific agreements in a highly fragmented Assembly, which would create tremendous instability,” says Muerza.

In France, the head of state is the one who designs the country’s reforms and the prime minister executes them once the Assembly approves them. Hence, it is difficult to see Macron, centrist and pro-European, as president in an Assembly with a left-wing majority and an anti-system and eurosceptic Mélenchon as prime minister.

“If the head of state does not control the National Assembly, he does not govern. Cohabitation makes the president the political adversary of the government, given that he has been elected with a program and a majority that the legislative elections have denied,” summarizes political scientist Jean-Noël Ferrié, director of research at the Center National Research (CNRS in its acronym in French).

The French electoral system plans the presidential and legislative elections just one after the other precisely to protect the result of the former and avoid this cohabitation between the president and the Assembly of different political persuasions. It has happened a few times in the history of the Fifth Republic, precisely “because it is rare that a person who has voted for Macron now votes for something else.”

However, the context this time is unprecedented: the traditional parties (Republicans and Socialists) were almost annihilated in the presidential elections and the extremes are on the rise: Marine Le Pen achieved her best result in April and Mélenchon was one point away from eliminating her. Between the two they added more than 40% support.

Macron has started the mandate mired in apathy. He elected the Government late and two of his ministers have already been involved in controversy. The one from Solidarity, Damien Abad, is accused of rape, while the head of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, has had to give explanations for the chaotic device during the Champions League final and which revealed one of France’s biggest problems: insecurity and integration problems in neighborhoods where the majority of the population is of immigrant origin. There where they vote for Mélenchon.

At the moment the president has been putting out fires, although he has advanced that among the most immediate reforms is a law to improve the purchasing power of the French, one of the key issues of the presidential campaign. He will go to that new Parliament at the end of June. The pension reform is one of his most controversial projects and would be opposed in an adverse Assembly.

He has also advanced a reform of education and has said that he will create a refoundation council, a body that will have to bring together, just after these elections, the political, economic and social forces, to promote reforms that affect purchasing power, the environment environment or institutions.

“One of the keys is to understand that this vote is like 577 mini-elections, one per constituency, which is how the French system is set up. It is the government ministers themselves who play it, because if they are not able to win in their own constituencies they can be left out, “says Muerza.

This is the case of the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, who is running for Calvados and whose future depends on the result. Mélenchon has already said that if his coalition wins, Macron would have to displace it and appoint him prime minister and thus give voice to the polls. The president has marked the red line: “No political party can impose a name on the president.”

“If Mélenchon achieves a good result, preventing him from claiming cohabitation is going to be a triumph,” says Muerza, who recalls that the post-election route of the Nupes coalition will have to be seen, since “it was designed for the campaign” and it is formed parties that otherwise would have disappeared.

Another of the unknowns of these elections is to see the deputies that Le Pen achieves. The electoral system makes it easier for there to be cordons sanitaires and in the second round the voters of other parties could vote against the far-rightist in the constituencies where she is only to stop her. “This electoral system hides, but does not eliminate, a reality that France has: the rise of the extreme right,” says Muerza.

The system “allows this rectification because it rewards the vote of rejection more than the vote of conviction. That explains how it is possible that a person who has twice reached the second round of the presidential elections has only a dozen deputies, out of 577 », he says, referring to Le Pen.

What is anomalous “is that now it is Mélenchon who has the chance of becoming prime minister when he failed to go through to the second round of elections, and the extreme right-wing party, who was close to victory, has a handful of deputies.”

These first months of the presidential mandate have been marked by the classic problems of France: the insecurity revealed by the Champions League final in Saint-Denis and the lack of integration in these towns. The controversy has increased when it became known that the recordings of the Stade de France security cameras were deleted. Police violence has also been at the center of the debate, after the shooting carried out by some agents a few years ago in Paris and after Jean-Luc Mélenchon said that “the police kill”. At the international level, Macron has announced that he will travel to Romania and Moldova next week and could visit kyiv.

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