As the results began to come on Sunday evening, it was clear that French voters had made a humiliating rebuke to Emmanuel Macron’s political party in regional elections less than a year before the presidential election.
Macron’s “old political world” rivals shattered in 2017 to win the presidency have rejoiced. But in the president’s camp, the mood was reduced.
“The movement poses a huge challenge,” said Roland Lescure, a member of parliament for Macron’s centrist party. “We’re five years old, and we don’t have a lot of elected officials on the ground…. It’s not frozen.”
The French president’s La République en Marche (LREM), which defeated established left-wing and right-wing parties to gain control of the National Assembly four years ago, secured about 7 percent of the total votes on Sunday – compared to an estimated 38 percent for center-right parties and 34 percent for socialists and others on the left.
Regional governments have limited power, especially over transport and education policy, but the winners over the weekend have sought to portray the vote as a test for next year’s election and have emphasizing issues of national concern such as law and order and the environment.
Xavier Bertrand, the center-right winner in the northern Hauts-de-France region, reiterated his desire to challenge Macron for the presidency next year. “This result gives me the strength to go and seek the support of all French people,” he said.
“La République en Marche n’existe pas,” said a councilor of one of Macron’s rivals, who predicted that macronism “would prove to be a parenthesis in French politics.”
Analysts have warned that defeat, though embarrassing, was unlikely to do lasting damage to Macron’s campaign for re-election as president in 10 months.
They stressed that Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party – until now seen as Macron’s main rival for the presidency, as it was in 2017 – had also underperformed, failing to win control. of a single regional council with about 20 percent. of the national vote. They also highlighted the low turnout – only a third of French voters voted.
“This one [the poor LREM showing] it will not necessarily be a problem in national elections, when there will be a very strong focus on personalities in the campaign, ”said Christèle Lagier, assistant professor of politics at the University of Avignon.
“[Macron’s] LREM has really struggled to participate in elections other than the presidential one, “said Emile Leclerc, research director of the Odoxa voting group.” But it’s a presidential system… And Macron today is more and more popular – almost 50 percent in favorable opinions, which is high ”.
Even Macron supporters, however, do not deny the significance of the defeat of regional elections or the need to rebuild LREM as an effective electoral machine.
Macron’s insurgent campaign in 2017 as a “neither right nor left” candidate and his victory in the presidential election at the age of 39 has led French politics into unknown waters by which it is not. even exit.
If Macron is re-elected next year, no one will know if voters will follow the practice of the last 20 years of the National Assembly-dominated election of the president’s party to implement his agenda. Failure to do so would force Macron to nominate a prime minister from a different political group, in a system known as “coexistence.”
Lescure was cautiously optimistic. “Hopefully when (the presidential election) comes around, people will become passionate again,” he said. “The most likely scenario is that there will be a majority [for the president] but it will be more fragmented than we had in 2017 ”.
“It will be more complicated than it was then,” he considered.
What happens to Macron, the future of his LREM party is uncertain. It could disappear in the event of defeat next year, or disappear a few years later after the two presidential terms allowed by the constitution.
It didn’t help that Macron weakened his newly formed party after winning his first elections in 2017 to provide himself with councilors, ministers and parliamentarians. Nor should key members of his government – including Prime Minister Jean Castex and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian – be taken in by traditional right-wing and left-wing parties, undermining the idea that their party offered a new beginning from the past.
“It wasn’t really a political party that got involved in French politics, but an individual – Emmanuel Macron,” Leclerc of Odoxa said. “If Emmanuel Macron was not there, if he was to leave French politics, then the party would collapse completely.”