French President Emmanuel Macron’s upstart party, En Marche! (Forward!), won a stunning victory in Sunday’s legislative elections. With this latest big boost, the youngest president in the six decade-long Fifth Republic has transformed the country’s political landscape in a matter of weeks and has potential to become one of the country’s most successful ever political leaders.
Yet, his ultimate success in coming years is still by no means guaranteed. This is not least because new legislators representing En Marche!, whose average age is early to mid-40s compared to the 60-70 of the outgoing lawmakers in the lower chamber, are drawn from a broad spectrum of political views and the cohesiveness of the bloc is uncertain.
France’s political mood remains volatile and one indicator of remaining voter unease is the exceptionally low turnout in the legislative elections estimated at 43%. Although the electorate has decided to favour hope over anger in this ballot, the tide could still turn against Macron if he fails to address widespread anti-establishment discontent fuelled by economic pain which has seen the country suffer years of double digit unemployment but also low growth.
Given the very high expectations now surrounding his presidency, Macron will be acutely aware that, despite early optimism over the election of the last two incumbents – Nicholas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande – both ultimately became unpopular one-term heads of state, despite also enjoying legislative majorities. Indeed, Hollande – who became the least popular president since records began – decided last year not to even seek re-election, the first incumbent not to try for a second term in the Fifth Republic.
The new president knows only too well that, if he fails with his programme, the primary beneficiaries of any discontent may well be other anti-establishment figures such as National Front leader Marine Le Pen and/or hard left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon, who…