French President Emmanuel Macron is at risk of losing his outright majority after a strong challenge from a coalition of left-wing parties in National Assembly elections.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-green alliance finished neck and neck with Macron’s Ensemble (Together), in terms of votes cast in Sunday’s first round, reports the BBC.
The president faces a battle in next week’s second round to win 289 seats and keep his majority.
Turnout was a historically low 47.5%.
Within half an hour of the first projection, a sombre Jean-Luc Mélenchon announced his alliance was in the lead: “The truth at the end of the first round is that the presidential party is beaten and defeated.” He called on voters to turn out in force next Sunday “to reject definitively the disastrous policies of Macron’s majority”.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron won a second term in April, but without a majority in the Assembly he will struggle to push through reforms. He intends to raise gradually the retirement age from 62 to 65, while Mélenchon vows to lower it to 60.
Although Ensemble won 25.71% of the vote, marginally ahead of the left’s 25.61%, it was still projected to dominate the National Assembly. TF1 pollster Ifop gave Ensemble 275 to 305 seats, with the green-left alliance on 175-205. Ipsos for France Télévisions said Macron’s alliance was heading for a lower 255-295 seats and the left 150-190.
Turnout was the lowest in modern French history. Many voters clearly decided to take advantage of the sunny weather across France, with temperatures in Paris hitting 27C. But so far the election campaign has largely failed to spark into life.
Mélenchon has proved the exception, leading a vigorous campaign since he came a close third in the presidential election. He has built an alliance called Nupes, made up of his own far-left party France Unbowed, the Socialists, Communists and greens – with the slogan “Mélenchon prime minister”.
His aim has been to stop the president winning the majority he needs across France’s 577 constituencies. On top of lowering the retirement age, Nupes vows to freeze prices on 100 essentials and create a million jobs.
Meanwhile, Macron has spent the intervening weeks since he won a second term in building a new government under Elisabeth Borne, as France grapples with rising inflation and a cost of living crunch.
The prime minister said the government had one week to convince voters and win a majority. Pointing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she said “we cannot risk instability”; France’s values were at risk, she said: “We alone have a project of coherence and responsibility.”