France certainly seems like a Republique En Marche (Republic on the move). A little over a month after Emmanuel Macron was elected president, his party and its allies have swept the French Parliament, winning 350 seats out of 577. Macron, whose party is less than a year old, will now have a cooperative legislature as he attempts to implement the economic reforms he promised during the campaign. There are other welcome signs: The large number of first-time legislators, many of whom are minorities, as well as the fact that the number of women members has risen from 155 to 277. The successive victories of a new liberal formation are, of course, being cheered by those who feared a far-right surge in the West after Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. The victory does, however, also call for a note of caution amidst the jubilation.
The turnout for the parliamentary elections was an abysmal 43 per cent, and as low as 30 per cent in areas with a large immigrant and minority population. Far-left leader Jean Luc Melenchon has already questioned the legitimacy of the mandate citing the high rate of abstention, particularly from the “have nots” of French society. While Melenchon may be exaggerating matters, it is true that the French polity is undergoing a substantial churn. The two parties that have alternated in Elysee through much of the Fifth Republic — the Conservatives and the Socialists — stand diminished. On the other hand, anti-globalisation parties on both the far-right and far-left have registered impressive growth.
After Brexit, France, along with Germany, is among the primary actors in the European Union. The spectre of a nativist surge in Europe has been dispelled somewhat with Macron and the REM’s comprehensive victory. However, it is unlikely that the sense of disenchantment among those who feel left behind by globalisation has been stanched completely, as the low turnout and growth in anti-EU parties suggests. To reap the full benefits of his victory, the French president needs to build a broad social coalition to match his electoral dominance.