Emmanuel Macron Is Now a Lame-Duck President

France’s president called snap elections to show the country was still behind him. It backfired massively — and last night’s first-round results suggest Marine Le Pen’s far right will dominate the new parliament.

Emmanuel Macron at a news conference in Paris, France, on June 12, 2024. (Nathan Laine / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The page is turning on Emmanuel Macron. After France went to the polls for the first round of snap parliamentary elections, the results last night were unequivocal: the president’s centrist coalition was relegated to a bitter third place, winning just under 21 percent of the vote according to tallies on Monday morning. That’s 4 percent lower than what Macronist candidates scored in the first round of the last such elections in 2022, as the president’s camp trailed behind both Marine Le Pen’s far right and the Left’s Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) alliance.

Sunday’s vote confirmed the dominant position of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN), one month after its victory in the June 9 elections to the European Parliament that prompted Macron’s surprise dissolution of the National Assembly. Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, allied with a minority of the center-right Les Républicains, came in first place, winning 33 percent of the vote. In second, the candidates of the Nouveau Front Populaire won around 28 percent.

In a victory speech on Sunday night, the Rassemblement National’s party president and presumptive prime minister Jordan Bardella praised the results as “an unmistakable verdict, confirming the clear desire for change.” Pointing to the defeat of the president’s coalition, twenty-eight-year-old Bardella presented the July 7 runoff ballots as a choice between the far-right force and the “alliance for disaster: Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Nouveau Front Populaire, which would lead the country to disorder, insurrection and economic ruin.”

A last-ditch attempt to regain the political initiative and avert three years of lame-duck government, Macron’s decision to call these snap elections has backfired. The results vary by local districts, but the president’s allies find themselves in a difficult position behind the dominant RN and NFP blocs, in a clear three-sided division of the French electoral space. The vote next Sunday will decide just how devastating Le Pen’s victory is, in runoff contests where no candidate yesterday scored a majority.

Not all of these will be head-to-head contests with the RN. In fact, three-cornered contests notionally make up just over half of the July 7 runoff votes. Pressure is now mounting on third-place candidates of the Left and center to withdraw in favor of the force best able to defeat Le Pen’s party. All candidates who’ve secured at least 12.5 percent of registered voters are technically entitled to compete in the runoff.

The high number of possible “triangulations” in this year’s second round is in part due to soaring turnout. With as much as 67 percent of registered voters casting a ballot, the first round saw a nearly twenty-point increase since the 2022 parliamentary elections. Voter participation approaches the level seen in France’s snap elections in 1997, when a left-wing alliance imposed a “cohabitation” government on center-right president Jacques Chirac.

The center of gravity in the July 7 runoff votes is shaping up as a confrontation between the Rassemblement National and Nouveau Front Populaire candidates. According to a tracker from the Financial Times, 296 RN candidates are entering the second round in first place, followed by 156 first-place finishes for the NFP and 65 for Macron’s coalition, Ensemble. In second place, the Rassemblement National has 117 candidates, after 158 for the Left and 154 for Macron’s allies. All told, 291 third-place candidates between the three leading blocs qualified for the second round. But some contests will need no runoff at all: as many as eighty-five candidates yesterday cleared the 50 percent threshold to win election in the first round.

The July 7 runoffs could bring surprises, depending on the number of candidates who drop out in the coming days in favor of the more competitive non-RN force. Nonetheless, Le Pen and her allies are widely predicted to emerge as the largest and best positioned bloc to form a new government this month. Pollster Ipsos’s seat projections predict the far right winning between 230 and 280 seats. That’s shy of the 289 seats required to secure an absolute majority, although the largest group in the National Assembly is traditionally granted the first chance to form a minority government. Bardella has claimed that he will not seek to form a government unless his coalition wins an absolute majority, a stance that can easily be walked back if the party is able to pick off support from the center-right.

“Democracy has spoken, and the French have placed the Rassemblement National and its allies in the lead, practically erasing the Macronist bloc,” Le Pen said on Sunday night. Having secured reelection to her seat in Pas-de-Calais, Le Pen called for undecided runoff voters to join what she termed the Right’s “coalition of liberty, security, and unity.”

It’s an uphill battle, but France’s left-wing forces are also trying to project confidence. “Macronism has collapsed,” said Aurélie Trouvé, a France Insoumise–NFP candidate also reelected to her seat in Seine-Saint-Denis, just north of Paris. “Against the far right there remains only one force capable of forming an alternative government, and that’s the Nouveau Front Populaire, Trouvé told France Info. “This vote inflicted a heavy and unequivocal defeat on the president,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Insoumise commented on Sunday night, also presenting the NFP as the only serious alternative to far-right rule.

Fragile Compromise

The left-wing alliance has extended an olive branch to non-RN parties, offering to withdraw its third-placed candidates and allow other forces a clear run against the far right. “In keeping with our principles and our constant position in all preceding elections, we will never allow the RN to win,” Mélenchon said. “In situations where [the far right] is in the lead with us in third place, we’ll withdraw our candidacies. . . . Our instructions to voters are simple, clear and direct: not a single vote, not a single seat more for the RN.”

The response from Macronists and the center-right establishment has been lukewarm at best, however — in tune with a campaign largely run on the argument that the far right and a France Insoumise–inflected Nouveau Front Populaire alliance represent equally threatening “extremes.” On June 24, Macron made the wildly incendiary claim that either an RN or a left-wing government risked throwing the country into a “civil war.” Just last week, outgoing minister Aurore Bergé tried to present the president’s bloc as the better barricade — and not Le Pen — against the Left.

“We will not give national vote instructions and will leave the choice up to the French to express themselves freely,” leaders of the majority wing of the center-right Républicains, who refused to follow disputed party president Éric Ciotti in an outright alliance with Le Pen, wrote in a press release. However, the center-right daily Le Figaro came out in clear favor of the Rassemblement National. “Between Bardella and Mélenchon, who in all honestly could say the two are equal?” wrote Alexis Brézet in the conservative organ’s July 1 editorial. “The program of the RN is worrying in many respects, but what it’s up against is antisemitism, Islamo-leftism, class hatred and tax hysteria.”

“It’s time for a broad, clear democratic and republican alliance for the second round,” the president wrote on Sunday night, in a laconic statement to Agence France-Presse. In another press release, the president’s coalition, Ensemble, seemed to add the condition of mutual respect for “values of the republic” in order to justify any withdrawal of candidacies.

Other Macron allies have been more forthcoming. Incumbent prime minister Gabriel Attal said that all Ensemble candidates who came third should drop out in favor of the strongest anti-RN force. “The lesson tonight is that the far right is on cusp of power,” said Attal. “We have one clear objective: prevent a Rassemblement National absolute majority from dominating the National Assembly and governing the country.” Clément Beaune, an incumbent MP in Paris and former transport minister on the center-left wing of the president’s coalition, wrote on Twitter/X: “Whoever they are, we must vote for the candidate facing off against an RN candidate.”

Should the Rassemblement National fall short of an absolute majority next Sunday, there are several possible scenarios — not least of which an RN push to lure potential coalition partners from the center-right. What all situations point to is a protracted period of political instability, with the president constitutionally barred from dissolving the National Assembly before one year.

More remotely, there is talk of the formation of a “technical,” anti-RN government to hold things over, which would have to draw on votes from Macronists, the dissident faction of the center-right, and elements of the Nouveau Front Populaire. In his Sunday night speech, Attal still clung to the hope that a hung National Assembly could leave the president’s centrist bloc as a pivot for building circumstantial majorities around specific bills. In a first bid to appeal to the center-left, Attal’s office indicated later in the evening that the government would withdraw a tightening of the unemployment insurance system slated to enter into effect on July 1.

All this is wildly speculative, if not naive political fantasizing. Ultimately, there’s one takeaway from last night: the onward march of the Rassemblement National.