There is no denying it: The last few months have been disastrous for the French left. As the gospel of neoliberalism goes up in flames across the Channel, French voters have handed over the republic to one of its true believers. Not only did they elect Emmanuel Macron as president. But last Sunday, they delivered his newly formed party, La République en Marche (LREM), a parliamentary supermajority, granting him the tools to comfortably enact his business-friendly agenda.
These will be trying times for the French working class, and really anyone concerned with the country’s collective well-being. Macron wants to radically restructure labor law in favor of employers; he wants to enshrine parts of the nation’s ongoing state of emergency into common law; and he wants to lower corporate taxes. Recently distilling his vision in a frightening and cruel tweet—which he wrote in English so it could be shared worldwide—he claimed France should be a “nation that thinks and moves like a start-up.”
Still, one would be mistaken in equating Macron’s success at the polls with a broad democratic mandate for his policies. After capturing the presidency in a run-off against the widely disliked Marine Le Pen, his party’s triumph in the legislative elections was propelled by historically low turnout. Just 42 percent of registered voters took part in last Sunday’s second-round ballot. This is the lowest turnout percentage for such a race in the nearly 60-year-old history of the Fifth Republic. According to polling, roughly three-fourths of 18-to-24-year-olds stayed home along with two-thirds of working-class voters.
Buoyed by these stunning levels of disinterest, LREM’s second-round tidal wave was also not as colossal as projected. Not all who did turn out voted for Macron’s cocktail of neoliberal policy programs. In fact, there were even some glimmers of hope last Sunday for those committed to the welfare state that Macron and his parliamentary alliance seek to undo.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise captured 17 seats. Having met the 15-deputy threshold necessary to form an official “parliamentary group,” FI will now benefit from formal offices and subsidies, a guaranteed amount of speaking time during debates, and a role in crafting the legislative schedule. While this clearly pales in comparison to Macron’s exploits, it is no small achievement for a brand-new political formation.