Voters in France are heading back to the polls for a fourth time in two months as legislative elections conclude on Sunday, hot on the heels of April’s presidential vote. Some 48.5 million voters are registered to cast a ballot in 572 run-off races across the country, with results due after polls close at 8pm Paris time on Sunday night. FRANCE 24 lays out the key numbers to keep in mind as France wraps up the 2022 election season.
52.49 percent abstention in the first round
A full 25,696,476 registered voters – 52.49 percent of the total – elected to stay away in the first round of these legislative elections, which concluded last Sunday. That abstention rate beat France’s previous record for the first round of a parliamentary poll, set in 2017. Among fellow European Union members, only Croatia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania have sunk to such low turnout levels in a legislative election, according to figures from the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Whether and how turnout evolves in the second round will be a crucial factor for Sunday’s final results. Significantly, abstention doesn’t cut into the votes cast for each party in the same way. The demographics of voter turnout tend to work in favour of Emmanuel Macron and his centre-right Ensemble! (“Together!”) coalition, while its primary challengers – Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s pan-leftist NUPES coalition and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party – are generally more vulnerable to turnout concerns as their younger and more working-class support tends to turn up in lower proportions at the ballot box.
Getting those who abstained last weekend to polling stations this weekend is particularly critical for the NUPES, the alliance made up of Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise (“France Unbowed” or LFI), the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the Greens (EELV). With left-wingers having managed to agree on that broad coalition ahead of the first round, there is very little support remaining to squeeze from voters who didn’t already back the NUPES then. Its best bets for bigger numbers are in teasing out support from the Anybody-But-Macron crowd and first-round no-shows.
289 seats for an absolute majority
The figure that rules in these elections, somewhat literally, is 289 – the number of seats needed to win an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly. For the first time in 25 years, reaching that number will be a genuine challenge for the French president’s side, in this case Macron’s centre-right alliance Ensemble!.
Macron’s La République en Marche (“Republic on the Move” or LREM) party won 306 seats on its own steam back in 2017, with its centrist ally Modem padding out that count with 42 more seats. But those days of dominance are now on the brink.
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After narrowly missing out on a place in the presidential final in April, leftist flagbearer Mélenchon spent two months lobbying voters to give his NUPES coalition a majority and, at least indirectly, give him the prime minister’s job instead. While 289 seats remains a longshot for the left (pollster Ipsos-Sopra Steria is projecting something within the bounds of 150-190 for the NUPES), whether Ensemble! can eke out a new absolute majority, or simply a relative one, may be the night’s biggest question mark. Ipsos projects the centre-right’s likeliest haul falling between 255 and 295 seats.
An absolute legislative majority, as Macron enjoyed during his first presidential term in office, would allow him to push through his policy agenda virtually unhindered. A relative majority, or hung parliament – unusual in France and unseen since 1991 – would complicate matters for Macron, requiring reaching out to other parties by entering into coalition, for instance, with the conservative Les Républicains or by negotiating majorities one-by-one for every piece of legislation. While parliamentary consensus-building comes naturally in some EU countries, it isn’t entrenched in France’s political culture and makes political deadlock more likely, as the centre-right camp has sought to underline on the campaign trail all week. (Macron would retain the right to call a snap legislative election – although potentially at his peril.)
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In a televised speech on the tarmac before setting off for Eastern Europe on Tuesday, Macron appealed for votes, saying it was “in the superior interest of the nation” to give him “a solid majority” in the lower-house chamber “in these troubled times”. “Nothing would be worse than to add French disorder to the global disorder,” he said.
NUPES leaders shot back, saying Macron’s comments betrayed his “arrogance” and a sense of “panic”. Mélenchon deemed the president’s tarmac appeal a “Trump-like sketch”.
21,359 vote margin
Sunday’s first round officially ended with the centre-right Ensemble topping the overall vote count, edging the pan-leftist NUPES by a mere 21,359 votes out of 23.2 million cast.
The NUPES did top Ensemble in one (minor) column on the election’s opening Sunday: Four NUPES candidates were elected outright in the first round – three in Paris districts and one in neighbouring Seine-Saint-Denis – while Ensemble only pocketed one seat outright on the night, in the northwestern Mayenne. Three more NUPES candidates are guaranteed seats in the run-off after their lone opponents withdrew their bids this week.
Winning a district in the first round is no easy feat (only four managed it in 2017). It requires scoring more than 50 percent of the vote plus support from a minimum 25 percent of registered voters. Far-right National Rally stalwart Le Pen is one candidate who came close this time: Vying for re-election, she won 53.96 percent of the vote in the first round, but didn’t meet the registered-voter quota owing to low turnout. Le Pen will face off against a NUPES candidate for the seat in northern Pas-de-Calais on Sunday.
Sixty-one districts to pit left against far-right
Indeed, Le Pen’s district is just one of 61 that will see a far-right National Rally candidate go head-to-head with a NUPES contender on Sunday night. That prospect has proved challenging for Macron’s Ensemble camp. As the first-round results rolled in on election night, centre-right heavyweights betrayed a certain ambivalence on TV broadcasts about whom to support in those races.
Going back 20 years in France, convention has it that mainstream parties set aside their animosities and band together to keep the far right from power whenever the occasion presents itself. That tradition, known as the Front républicain, has wobbled of late. But leftist voters argue they had a hand in carrying Macron to re-election against Le Pen in April on that basis and bristle at his camp’s apparent reluctance to return the favour now.
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Government spokeswoman Olivia Grégoire looked to set the record straight on Monday morning. She suggested that Ensemble’s ambivalence owed to a “very few” far-left-leaning NUPES candidates – fewer “than could be counted on one hand”.
“Let’s be clear,” said Grégoire. “Not a single vote for the National Rally.”
Whether that counts as a ringing endorsement in the context of record abstention is another matter.
Achievements unlocked: 15, 58, 60, 185 …
After advancing to the run-off in 206 districts, the National Rally is projected to win more than enough seats to form an official parliamentary group for the first time since 1986, when an experiment with proportional representation gave party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front and his allies 35 seats. Pollsters Ipsos-Sopra Steria project Marine Le Pen’s far right could win 20 to 45 seats, up from eight in 2017.
The threshold for a parliamentary group – which brings more speaking time on the house floor, public financing to hire parliamentary staff and better access to parliamentary facilities – is 15 seats.
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Beyond those basics, higher seat counts sweeten the privileges available. A minimum of 58 deputies is required to issue a no-confidence motion, which spurs a debate on the floor and entails a vote. The threshold for challenging a law by referring it to the Constitutional Council is 60 deputies. Lastly, no fewer than 185 deputies are required to request that an issue be put to a shared-initiative referendum nationwide.
Three ministers’ jobs on the line
Fifteen government ministers, more than half of the 28 named just last month after Macron’s re-election, laid their cabinet posts on the line by throwing their hats in the parliamentary ring. By convention, a sitting minister who runs for election and loses must give up the government gig. Most standing in this election – with Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne chief among them, running in the Calvados – advanced comfortably and are likely to win their pro-Macron constituencies on Sunday.
But three, in particular, face tough run-off duels against NUPES candidates who topped their scores by wide margins in the first round: Minister for Public Services and head of Macron’s LREM Stanislas Guerini and Junior Minister for Europe Clément Beaune, who are both running in Paris, and Ecological Transition Minister Amélie de Montchalin, who is running in the suburban Essonne south of the French capital.
Weather can arguably be a factor anytime voters are called to the polls on a spring weekend for the fourth time in quick succession. But France’s 2022 spring election season is wrapping up with the country bracing for a record early heatwave. The Météo-France weather service is warning of temperatures never before recorded in a French month of June. The mercury is slated to climb to between 35 and 40°C across much of continental France, with a swath from southwest to central France expected to see 40 to 42°C.
That heat is forecast to break by Sunday, the day voters in metropolitan France head to the polls. But just how the torrid weather will affect second-round turnout – from hampering candidates from shaking hands and kissing babies down the stretch to re-igniting climate concerns – will be yet another factor to glean from the numbers as they roll in on Sunday night.
Source: France 24