(Adds details, vote count, remarks by party/coalition leaders)
By Luis Miguel Pascual
Paris, Jun 12 (EFE).- Alarms began ringing in the Elysee Palace on Sunday after the first round of the legislative elections, which put President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble alliance neck and neck with the NUPES coalition of leftist parties headed by Jean-Luc Melenchon and raised doubts about whether the president’s party will maintain its overwhelming absolute majority in the National Assembly.
With 96 percent of the votes counted, candidates of Macron’s Ensemble (Together) alliance have received 25.68 percent of the votes, while those of the NUPES coalition have received 25.14 percent.
Early projections announced by polling firms after the precincts closed had given both Macron’s slate of legislative candidates and those of the head of the leftist La France Insoumise party about 25 percent of the votes in this first electoral round, with a runoff to be held June 19 for any races where no candidate obtains a majority.
Voter turnout appears to have set a new record low of about 47.5 percent, with voter absenteeism at 52.54 percent.
Initial projections by polling firms put the president’s Ensemble coalition on the verge of losing its absolute majority of 350 seats in the National Assembly. For an absolute majority in parliament, the coalition needs 289 seats, but projections by four major polling firms are that it will garner between 255 and 310, throwing doubt on whether Ensemble lawmakers will remain in the parliamentary driver’s seat.
Two months after Macron’s comfortable victory in the presidential vote, where he handily beat rightist candidate Marine Le Pen, his political platform could be stymied if he fails to secure an absolute majority to pass his proposals – including a controversial reform of France’s pension system – in the lower house.
Macron, who officially has been prohibited from campaigning for legislative candidates, in recent days increased his appearances at public events, where he reiterated the need for France to have a solid centrist parliamentary majority given the turbulent state of international affairs.
But his urgent call for voters’ support doesn’t guarantee it, given the emergence of the unusual NUPES coalition headed by Melenchon, which includes not only La France Insoumise, but also the Socialists, Communists and Greens.
According to vote projections, NUPES will obtain between 150 and 210 seats in the National Assembly, compared with the 58 it obtained in the 2017 election, and thus it will become the main opposition grouping, surpassing the conservative right of The Republicans, which could lose half of its 112 parliamentary seats and be left with between 50 and 80.
The ultrarightist Le Pen’s party will garner about 20 percent of the votes, somewhat fewer than it obtained in the April presidential balloting, and will end up with between 10 and 45 seats in parliament, compared with the 8 it held before the legislative elections, according to projections.
The important defeat of election day was suffered by the other representative of the extreme right, Eric Zemmour, who will most likely wind up with no parliamentary representation.
Melenchon was the big winner of the day, however, having come in third in the April presidential vote and thus not making it to the runoff. But in Sunday’s vote, he may have achieved his aim of fighting hard to prevent another absolute majority for Macron, and if the leftists were to obtain a plurality in Parliament the president presumably would be obligated to name Melenchon prime minister in a grand coalition government.
“The presidential party, in this first round, has been overcome and defeated. It’s the first time that a newly elected president has not achieved a majority in the Assembly,” said Melenchon, who did not run for any seat in the legislature and emphasized the success of the alliance he formed despite the opposition of key Socialist leaders.
The leftist alliance candidates have come in either first or second in about 500 of the 577 voting districts into which France is divided, a situation that may put within reach the victory that the voter surveys said was beyond his grasp.
But to ensure that, Melenchon will have to attract enough votes for runoff candidates from voters who are ideologically quite far away from him – such as conservatives or even those on the extreme right. Or, he will have to entice voters who didn’t cast ballots in this first legislative round, among whom are many young people and low- to middle-income voters and to whom he directed his speech on election night.
Melenchon touted his proposals to improve the public’s purchasing power as well as to raise the minimum wage to 1,500 euros ($1,578) net per month and to reduce the retirement age.
In the face of those promises, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that the country is confronting “an unprecedented confusion of extremes” that is dangerous given current international turmoil, adding that a solid majority is a necessity and something only her, and Macron’s, party can deliver.
“In the face of the extremes, we’re the only ones who have a coherent, clear and responsible platform,” she said.