The Cable

With First Round Over, French Presidential Candidates Look Ahead to Parliamentary Elections

Fillon says he will step aside as party head, so that another may begin rebuilding for June.

sad fillon touches mics

As France and the world look to the second round of French presidential elections, the candidates themselves, past and present, are also eyeing June’s parliamentary elections.

On Monday, François Fillon, who placed third in the April 23 first round with 20.01 percent of the vote and so will not be a contender in the May 7 second round, said he will not seek to be the leader of his party. So, too, did he say he will not run to keep his seat in parliament. “I will have to think about my life in a different way, and to heal the wounds of my family,” said Fillon, who was charged during his campaign for using roughly a million euros in parliamentary funds to pay for “jobs” as parliamentary aides for his wife and children.

This means that someone else — perhaps former president Nicolas Sarkozy, perhaps some Sarkozy-backed candidate — can make a move to don the Republican crown heading into the parliamentary elections.

And which party wins by how much in those parliamentary elections is likely to matter quite a bit. If Emmanuel Macron, who came in first in the first round, is elected president of France, he will need to work with parliament to translate his platform of hope and optimism into policies that somehow address the roughly 40 percent of French voters who put their ballots behind the far-right Marine Le Pen and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both of whom appealed to globalization’s discontents — and who aren’t going to disappear after June.

If Macron manages not only to win the presidential race, but win by a hefty margin, it could help him overcome the fact that his movement is only roughly a year old. His first task: recruiting and selecting 577 people to run for parliament as members of his quasi-party. But while a decisive victory in May would give him a bump in the parliamentary elections, it’s unlikely he’d win a majority, Sheri Berman, a French politics expert at Barnard College, said.

A governing coalition seems the more plausible scenario, and the question is whether he would be able to cobble one together from more centrist socialists and more reasonable center-right members, Berman said.

The next question is whether that governing (and governable) coalition will be able to pass bills that actually work. Or, to put it another way: If April’s big story in France was the end of the traditional parties, June’s may be whether politicians across party lines can work together for the good of their people.

And if Macron loses and Le Pen wins? She’s stepping aside as head of her party — which, at present, has two seats in the National Assembly — to show she’s above partisanship (her replacement, Jean-François Jalkh, is on record saying he believes it was impossible for Zyklon B to have been used for mass extermination, which was its exact purpose at Auschwitz). But as endorsements for Macron by Fillon and Benoît Hamon showed on Sunday, there’s strong opposition to Le Pen and the National Front across party lines. Unless that sentiment reverses dramatically by June, Le Pen, too, may find it difficult to make good on those pesky campaign promises.

Photo credit: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

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