Macron allies seek to salvage power after shock vote setback
French President Emmanuel Macron and his allies were scrambling for a way out of political deadlock Monday after losing their parliamentary majority in a stunning blow for the president and his reform plans.
Macron's Ensemble (Together) coalition emerged as the largest party in Sunday's National Assembly vote, but was dozens of seats short of keeping the parliamentary majority it had enjoyed for the last five years.
Surges on the left and the far-right destroyed the dominant position of Macron's deputies who, for the past five years, had backed the president's policies without fail.
Turnout was low, with the abstention rate recorded at 53.77 percent.
- 'A slap' -
The left-leaning Liberation daily called the result a "slap in the face" for Macron, while the conservative Le Figaro said he was now "faced with an ungovernable France".
Macron's allies may now seek a majority by forming deals with other parties on the right, stirring up turmoil not seen in French politics for decades.
The election saw the new left-wing alliance NUPES make gains to become the main opposition force with 127 seats, according to the Interior Ministry.
But it is unclear if the coalition of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed will remain a united bloc in the National Assembly.
Meanwhile the far-right under Marine Le Pen posted the best legislative performance in its history, becoming the strongest single opposition party with 89 seats, up from eight in the outgoing chamber.
A confident Le Pen said her party would demand to chair the National Assembly's powerful finance commission, as is tradition for the biggest opposition party.
"The country is not ungovernable, but it's not going to be governed the way Emmanuel Macron wanted," Le Pen told reporters Monday.
Hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, who leads the NUPES alliance, said he would bring a motion of no confidence against Macron's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as soon as parliament convenes in July.
Borne, who was elected to parliament in her first-ever political race, was nonetheless seen as vulnerable as Macron faces a new cabinet shake-up after several of his top allies lost their seats.
His health and environment ministers lost their seats and by tradition will have to resign, as did the parliament speaker and the head of Macron's parliament group.
"We will see in the coming hours, but for now the prime minister remains the prime minister," government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire told France Inter radio Monday.
"My fear is that the country is paralysed," she added.
- 'Turning point' -
The outcome severely tarnished Macron's April presidential election victory when he defeated Le Pen, becoming the first French president to win a second term in over two decades.
"It's a turning point for his image of invincibility," said Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Centre for Political Research of Sciences Po.
The options available to Macron, who has yet to publicly comment on the result, range from seeking to form a new coalition alliance, passing legislation based on ad hoc agreements to even calling new elections.
His Together alliance won 244 seats, far short of the 289 needed for an overall majority.
"The rout of the presidential party is total," Melenchon told supporters.
A prominent MP from Melenchon's party, Alexis Corbiere, said Macron's plan to raise the French retirement age to 65 had now been "sunk".
Macron had hoped to stamp his second term with an ambitious programme of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now in question.
"It will be much more difficult to govern," said Dominique Rousseau, professor of law at Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne University.
- 'Imagination needed' -
There could now potentially be weeks of political deadlock as the president seeks to reach out to new parties.
The most likely option would be an alliance with the Republicans, the traditional party of the French right, which has 61 MPs.
LR president Christian Jacob however made clear there would be no easy partnership, saying his party intended to "stay in opposition".
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire admitted "a lot of imagination will be needed" from the Macron's party in what Le Figaro said was "a jump into the unknown".
In a rare spot of good news for the president, Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini -- both young pillars of his party -- won tight battles for their seats.
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