France has begun voting in the final round of parliamentary elections as Emmanuel Macron’s centrists attempt to hold on to their majority against a challenge from a new left alliance.
Sunday’s vote will set the balance of power for Macron’s second term, defining his capacity to deliver domestic policy such as raising the retirement age and overhauling state benefits.
Macron, who was re-elected president in April against the far right’s Marine Le Pen, needs a majority for his centrist grouping in the lower house of parliament in order to have a free hand for his proposals to cut taxes and make changes to the welfare system.
Pollsters have been unable to predict whether Macron will cling on to a majority in what is likely to be a record low turnout.
All polling firms predict that Macron’s centrist alliance, Ensemble, will be the biggest grouping in parliament, but it could fall short of the 289 seats needed for a majority. Final polls this week suggested it would take between 255 and 305 seats in the 577-seat house.
A historic alliance of parties on the left, led by the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, or France Unbowed, party with the Socialists and the Greens, is hoping for a huge increase in seats to reduce the score of Macron’s centrists . The coalition, known as Nupes, or the New Popular Ecological and Social Union, is predicted to become the largest opposition force. Polls show it could take between 140 and 200 seats.
The contest has turned increasingly bitter in the final week of campaigning with both sides accusing the other of bringing chaos to France. A senior Macron ally, Christophe Castaner, who is struggling to hold his seat, accused Mélenchon of wanting a “Soviet revolution” and other ministers called the left dangerous anarchists and populists who threatened France’s place in Europe. The left accused Macron of wanting to unravel France’s welfare state.
Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party had appealed to its voters to turn out to oppose Macron. The far right is predicted to significantly increase its presence in parliament and win between 20 and 45 seats.
Several ministers are fighting to win parliament seats and will have to quit the cabinet if they lose, including the environment minister, Amélie de Montchalin, and the Europe minister, Clément Beaune.
On the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where the poll is held a day early, the left’s candidate, Christian Baptiste, defeated the government’s secretary of state for the sea, Justine Benin. Under cabinet rules, she will have to resign from the government.