PALAISEAU, France – Five years ago, Amélie de Montchalin, a politician known more for her quiet technocratic skills than her oratory, easily won parliamentary elections in this southern suburb of Paris, later becoming one of President Emmanuel Macron’s ministers.
But at a small rally last week, at the risk of losing her seat to a left-wing opponent in this year’s parliamentary elections, she unleashed an unusually fervent diatribe, accusing the left of promoting “a vision of disorder” that France would see. lead to “submission” to Russia.
If the left wins, Ms. de Montchalin told the crowd gathered in a sun-drenched square, “there will be bankruptcies and the unemployed in a few weeks or a few months.”
Her outburst reflected the crushing rhetorical struggle that Macron’s centrist forces and a coalition of left-wing candidates are waging ahead of the second round of voting in Sunday’s parliamentary election. Much is at stake for Mr Macron as a defeat could hamper his majority in the National Assembly, France’s more powerful parliament building, and hamper his ambitious agenda.
Macron’s supporters describe a possible victory for the coalition and its leader, far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as a catastrophe that would ruin France. The left says Macron and his allies are panicking as they lose their grip on power, accusing the president of staging photo ops in Ukraine’s capital Kiev as he tries to mediate the war in Ukraine instead to take care of the French. voters.
Both parties are desperately chasing the roughly 52.5 percent of French voters who failed to vote last Sunday, the lowest level in the first round of a parliamentary election since 1958.
Opinion polls and forecasts suggest that it could be difficult for Macron’s alliance of centrist parties known as Ensemble to maintain the absolute majority it enjoyed during his previous term in office that allowed him to push through legislation relatively unimpeded.
Instead, the president could have a relative majority — more seats than any other political power, but no more than half of the 577 seats in the National Assembly — forcing him to reach down the aisle for certain bills. .
“Even if he gets a majority, he will probably have to negotiate more,” said Olivier Rozenberg, an associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris. After five years of Mr Macron’s top-down governance style, which left many lawmakers feeling sidelined, “the logic of governing is likely to be a little less vertical,” Mr Rozenberg said.
Weeks ago, it looked like Mr Macron was likely to secure an outright majority after convincingly beating Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, in the presidential race. Over the past 20 years, voters have usually given their newly elected president strong parliamentary support.
Then France’s left-wing parties unexpectedly agreed to put aside major differences over foreign and economic policies, at least temporarily, and forge an alliance for the parliamentary elections called NUPES, for Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale, which also included the France Unbowed. Mr Mélenchon’s party belongs. , and the socialist, green and communist parties. In last Sunday’s first round, they ended up neck and neck with Macron’s alliance, taking about 25 percent of the vote.
Referring to the left alliance’s proposals, which include overhauling the French constitution and raising the monthly minimum wage to $1,580, Mr Macron’s top lieutenants have compared Mr Mélenchon to Hugo Chávez, the populist former Venezuelan leader. They have warned that a left-wing victory would return France to “Soviet regulations‘ and bring in a ‘tax guillotine at all levels’. They have also berated Mr Mélenchon for being too gentle with Russia.
Jérôme Guedj, a socialist running for the left-wing coalition in the Essonne department against Ms. de Montchalin, complained of what he called “demonization, caricature and amalgamation”, which reflected Macron’s and his party’s “panic” over a possible defeat .
“It really reminds me of 1981,” said Mr Guedj, referring to the year in which François Mitterrand, the socialist leader, won the presidency with the support of French communists. “People said, ‘There will be Russian tanks in the Place de la Concorde.'”
The left has made its own accusations. Mélenchon’s supporters say the government secretly plans to raise value-added taxes to reduce the country’s deficit, a claim Macron’s alliance has called a lie.
The speed with which Mr Macron courted from the left in the presidential election to the battle for the parliamentary vote is partly a result of France’s two-round electoral system. But it is also evidence of Macron’s changing political nature and that his party has gradually occupied a larger center with radical opponents on both sides, Rozenberg said.
Macronism developed by eating at the margins, by eating the center left and eating the center right instead of making alliances or negotiating coalitions,” he said.
This metamorphosis has not been without confusion. The president’s alliance initially struggled to provide clear voting guidelines to supporters in districts where Ms. Le Pen faced off against left-wing candidates in the second round, with both forces sometimes described as equally threatening. Party leaders eventually stressed that “no vote” should go to the far right.
But some Macron supporters seem divided on the issue.
Michèle Grossi, 74, a retiree from a constituency near Paris, where the far right and left clash on Sunday, said she would vote for Ms Le Pen’s candidate if there was no Macron candidate because she ” was very afraid of Mélenchon.” Another Macron supporter, Christophe Karmann, said that, with the same scenario, he would support the left because it was a “republican force”.
Ms Grossi also expressed concern among some of the president’s supporters that he was no longer involved in the campaign, saying it was “sad that Macron has not spoken more.”
Mr Macron tried to dispel that idea last week, issuing dire warnings about what was at stake in this election. In a solemn speech on Tuesday on the tarmac of Orly airport, south of Paris, he said that “in these difficult times” the mood was “more crucial than ever”. He urged voters to give him a “solid majority” for the “superior interest of the nation”.
“Nothing would be worse than adding a French disorder to the global disorder,” said Mr Macron, who was about to embark on a trip to Eastern Europe, in part to visit French troops dispatched in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But Mr Macron’s comments, made with the presidential plane’s engines roaring in the background, did little to quell his opponents’ accusations that he had avoided an open confrontation.
“His ship sinks and Macron takes a plane,” Mélenchon said derisively at a meeting in Toulouse. In an interview with Le Parisien, Mr. Mélenchon said the French president was out of touch with ordinary citizens’ concerns about rising food and energy costs.
“He doesn’t understand French society,” he said. “He doesn’t realize how people are stifled by prices.”
In the Essonne department, Ms de Montchalin, currently the minister in charge of France’s green transition, was seven percentage points behind Mr Guedj after the first round. She is one of 15 ministers running for a seat in parliament who have been warned by Mr Macron that losing would mean leaving his cabinet.
To gain support during last week’s rally, Ms. de Montchalin a remarkable guest: Bruno Le Maire, the old French finance minister. He told the crowd that the economy had improved – unemployment has fallen to 7.3 percent, the lowest level in a decade – and that unlike Mr Mélenchon, Mr Macron did not promise a “bright future on credit”.
But Ms. de Montchalin’s campaign staff acknowledged it would be a tough election.
Karmann said he bet with friends that if Macron’s party failed to gain a solid working majority, the president would dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections. France will be “hard to rule” in the next five years, he said.
Constant Meheut reported from Palaiseau, France, and Aurelien Breeden from Paris.