Macron set to reprise Jacques Chirac as France gears up for another cohabitation

New Delhi: A French President, seeking a parliament more aligned with his ideology and programme of action, took the gamble by dissolving it prematurely for fresh elections – and ended up with a left-wing government that championed its own schemes and hampered his course. Emmanuel Macron in 2024? No, it was Jacques Chirac in 1997.

Though the era and circumstances are different, but like Chirac, Macron is not going to have an easy time.

As the dust settles on the snap parliamentary election that Macron called in a rather desperate gambit, the predictions of a sweep by the far-right National Rally have dissipated as it did not match its show in the EU Parliament elections and the first round of the French elections.

However, the the triumph of the hard left over the far-right is scarcely an outcome that he could have wanted.

While no bloc – the far-right, the hard-left-led National Popular Front, or Macron’s own Ensemble is even remotely close to a majority in the 577-member National Assembly, forming the new government will be a complex task, as it involves a lot of wheeling and dealing. But the strikingly different ideological makeup of all the three major blocs makes any alliance difficult and its functioning and longevity doubtful.

If it ends in a Left-led government, as the NFP (as per its French name) demanded as it became the singest-largest bloc, it is not going to be easy for Macron in the country’s fourth spell of “cohabitation” – where different parties hold the presidency and the sway in the parliament.

In a last-ditch effort to ward off the far-right, Macron’s Centrists entered into a tacit alliance of convenience with the second-placed hard-left ensemble, with several third-placed candidates of both blocs quitting in various places so as to prevent division of votes and set up one-to-one contests against the National Rally in the second round.

The gambit did succeed in its primary aim of stopping what seemed an unstoppable march to power by Marine Le Pen and the youthful Jordan Bardella’s co-led National Rally but ended up benefitting the Left more than it did Macron and his party.

And the two forces may have struck up a tactical – and ultimately successful – alliance, there is no love lost between the two parties as the NFP partners are trenchant critics of Macron’s policies on the raised retirement age, and tax cuts, among others.

And any hopes that the arrangement could carry on into the new Assembly was dispelled by the remarks of Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the radical left France Unbowed, the largest in the left-wing coalition, following the exit polls on Sunday.

Terming the result “the outcome of a magnificent mobilisation effort”, he said: “The President has to bow and admit this is a defeat… the Prime Minister needs to leave. The President has the power and the duty to call the NFP to govern.”

On the other hand, Macron had, in the runup to the polls, declared that the victory of either the far-right or the hard-left could ignite “a civil war” in the country.

The NFP is not a monolithic bloc too, being a combination of Socialists, Ecologists, Communists and France Unbowed (LFI) and others, including some Trotskyite elements, which have plenty of policy disagreements with each other but came together as a united force against the far-right after Macron called the snap parliamentary election last month. However, whether it will remain a cohesive unit remains to be seen.

Time will tell whether the NFP’s stab at power succeeds – and how it fares, but amid the resurgence of the Left and the setback to the far-right, what the National Rally called a “delayed victory” and fulminated at the “dishonourable” Left-Macronist alliance that stymied it, the ultimate loss is of Macron.

Smarting from National Rally’s emphatic victory in the European Parliament elections in June, he largely unilaterally decided to call snap parliamentary elections, seemingly leaving his government taken aback – as per their glazed expressions in a photo of the cabinet meeting. He had reportedly likened his move to throwing “an unpinned grenade at their (far-right’s) feet”.

His action may have succeeded partially, insofar, as it has stymied the National Rally, but Macron ended up facing a blowback from an entire direction entirely. He may have staved off the far-right with the left but cannot play the same game again in a different variant, given the livid attitude of the National Rally.

President Chirac “cohabited” with Premier Lionel Jospin’s Socialist government for 5 years. Macron, who has asserted that he will remain President for the rest of his term (till 2027), will have to “cohabit” for at least a year, for under the Constitution, another election cannot be called till then.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at


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