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Macron turns to coalition-building after losing majority in parliamentary elections

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French President Emmanuel Macron and his allies began working Monday to rally a working parliamentary majority to save his second term in office after his centrist alliance collapsed in parliamentary elections against the advance of the left and far right.

Macron’s Ensemble (Together) coalition emerged as the largest party in the parliamentary elections, but fell dozens of seats short of retaining the parliamentary majority it had enjoyed for the past five years.

It will now try to find a majority by making deals with parties on the right, sparking unrest unprecedented in French politics in recent years.

Macron, 44, is now also at risk of being distracted by domestic problems as he aims to play a prominent role in ending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as a key statesman in the EU.

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In the election, a new left-wing alliance known as NUPES made gains to become the main opposition coalition, while the far right under Marine Le Pen had its best legislative performance in history.

“This situation poses a risk to our country, given the challenges we face,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a televised statement on Sunday, vowing: “We will work from tomorrow to build a working majority.”

The outcome seriously tarnished April’s presidential election victory, when he defeated the far right to become the first French president to win a second term in more than two decades.

“It’s a turning point for his image of invincibility,” said Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po University in Paris.

The options available to Macron, who has not yet commented publicly on the outcome, range from seeking a new alliance, passing legislation based on ad hoc agreements or even calling new elections.

“Le Monde” ran a daily headline on its website, “Macron is at risk of political paralysis”, while the right-wing “Le Figaro” said the results raised the specter of a “stillborn new mandate”.

The left-wing “Liberation” said the results represented the “fall” of Macron’s way of ruling.

The new left-wing coalition, led by 70-year-old far-left figurehead Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won 135 seats, according to an AFP tally based on results published by the Interior Ministry.

The coalition, formed in May after the left split ahead of April’s presidential election, brings together socialists, the far left, communists and the Green Party.

Mélenchon called Sunday’s results “above all an electoral failure” for Macron.

“The defeat of the presidential party is total and there will be no majority” in parliament, he told cheering supporters in Paris.

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Far-right party Rassemblement National (National Rally) led by far-right leader Marine Le Pen has made huge gains and will send 89 MPs to the new legislature, making it the largest right-wing force in parliament, ahead of the traditional conservative party Les Républicains.

Macron had hoped to seal his second term with an ambitious program of tax cuts, social security reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now up for debate.

“This will complicate reforms… It will be much more difficult to govern,” said Dominique Rousseau, a law professor at the Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University.

A prominent MP from Mélenchon’s party, Alexis Corbiere, said the election results meant Macron’s controversial plan to raise the retirement age to 65 was now off the agenda.

Conservative potential partners of ‘stay in the opposition’

There could now be weeks of political deadlock as the president tries to reach out to new parties.

The most likely option would be an alliance with Les Républicains (LR), the traditional party of the French right, which has 61 MPs.

But LR party chairman Christian Jacob has repeatedly made it clear that his party intends “to remain in the opposition”.

Other voices from the right seemed more open, with former right-wing minister Jean-François Copé saying a “government pact between Macron and LR is vital to combat the rise of extremes”.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire denied that France would be ungovernable under the new parliament, but admitted that “a lot of imagination will be needed” from the ruling party as it faces an “unprecedented situation”.

Another blow to Macron is that key ministers will lose their jobs under a convention calling on them to resign if they fail to win seats.

Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon, Maritime Affairs Minister Justine Benin and Environment Minister Amélie de Montchalin – a pillar of Macron’s government in recent years – all lost and will now leave the government.

Two other close Macron allies, Speaker of Parliament Richard Ferrand and former Home Secretary Christophe Castaner, also acknowledged defeat in the battle for their seats.

In a rare place with good news for the president, European Minister Clément Beaune and Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini – both young pillars of his party – won fierce battles to keep their seats.

On the left, Rachel Kéké – a former cleaning lady who campaigned for better working conditions in her hotel – was also elected, beating Macron’s former sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.

Turnout was low, with an abstention rate of 53.77 percent, according to the Interior Ministry, higher than the first round, but not the record for worst turnout of 2017.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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