In a historic breakthrough, the coalition of left parties, led by the radical left, has won the most votes in the first round of the French parliamentary elections, reports John McGrath
The left, not the far right, is now the opposition that threatens the main parties of French capitalism. The New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES), the name of the left-wing, social democratic coalition led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon had a strong showing on Sunday’s first round voting of the French Parliamentary Elections. When results were initially announced at 8pm, Mélenchon and his party were projected to beat Macron’s neoliberal grouping, Ensemble, by the slim margin of 25.6% to 25.2%.
“The truth is that the presidential party was beaten and defeated in the first round,” Mélenchon stated in Paris on Sunday night after voting projections were announced. The second round of voting will be held on Sunday 19 June.
Despite the strong showing of NUPES, there’s a decent chance that Macron will once again control the majority in Parliament as his coalition performs better in suburban and rural areas which afford him more seats in parliament. Mélenchon’s candidates gained significant support from the multiracial working class in French cities where their votes are stacked up in fewer districts. When Sunday’s votes were counted in full, the results had the two leading parties in a virtual tie. At 25.7% of the vote share. The far-right party placed third with 18.7%
Macron’s party would need to win 289 seats of the 577 seats in parliament to have a majority for his second five-year term. Next Sunday’s election will determine this and promises to be close.
As was the case with the second round of the Presidential election, where Macron beat Marine Le Pen, a historic number of French citizens abstained from participating in Sunday’s election. Turnout was 47.3% so the majority of the country sat this one out.
In the past, Mélenchon has described Macron as being the worst of both worlds: half Margaret Thatcher and half Tony Blair. The economic liberal reforms of Macron’s first term were interrupted by the anti-austerity nature of the movement of the gilets jaunes (yellow vest protests) and the emergency government assistance provided during the pandemic.
During his second term, Macron promises to make cuts in the benefit system and to raise the age of retirement. In what has become the tritest liberal attack line in western politics of the last 6 years, Macron accused Mélenchon of being aligned with Russia and Putin during the run up to Sunday’s election.
Mélenchon promises to lower the retirement age to 60 (it’s currently 62) and raise the minimum wage to 1500 euro a month. He also campaigned on putting price controls on 100 “essentials” to combat inflation and the cost of living crises. The NUPES alliance pledges a million new jobs in infustructure and renewable energy projects.
Historic centre left parties have struggled in recent years in much of Europe, and in France the centre-left Socialist Party was on the verge of total extinction. It is the Left which has revitalised social democracy in France. The NUPES represents a coming together of Mélenchon’s party, Popular Union, with the Greens, what’s left of the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party.
There are a handful of high profile centrists of the Socialist party that didn’t join NUPES and the two largest Trotskyists parties of France (The Nouveau Party Anticapitaliste and the Lutte Ouvriere, whose candidates collectively received fewer then 1.5% of the vote share in the 2022 Presidential election) didn’t join the alliance as well, although they supported some the individual candidates.
The upcoming election on Sunday will determine if Macron’s neoliberal agenda passes with limited obstacles in parliament. Should Mélenchon and NUPES prevail, it will take a rejuvenated social movement to make even the most basic social democratic gains. There is already a hostility in the French mainstream press at the idea of NUPES gaining more influence in Parliament.
Mélenchon possesses some talent for imbuing his rhetoric with a sense of history and framing his arguments with philosophical embellishments. After the results were announced on Sunday night, he told the press and the assembled audience
“Given the results and the fantastic opportunity that we now have, for our personal, independent lives and the shared destiny that we have collectively, I call on all people of France to come out in hoards to the polls next Sunday to reject, once and for all, the dark projects of Mr. Macron’s majority.”
“Come out with your voting ballots to open up the door of the future. A future which so many generations before us have been fighting for, a future of harmony between people. Put an end to this sense of domination, social and cultural domination. We need a future built between the harmony of mankind and nature.”
A strong showing on Sunday 19 June will not usher in a new eco-socialist utopia, but it will be a significant step in electoral politics in France which has been drifting to the right for the last three decades. The prospects are exciting for member of Parliament Danièle Obono of Paris:
“We think the government made everything possible for people not to get interested in this election, they like that there is a low turnout because that’s how they expect they will win. We already managed to get this far. And now in a week’s time we could actually win a majority if the millions of people who didn’t participate in this first election- those are millions who could actually change the future of this country. If we are a majority, we can change everything with the way the country is being ruled.”
Daniele Orbono will be joining Revolution! A Festival of Marxist Ideas 2022, Saturday 25 – Sunday 26. Sign up here
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