Just the Facts: French Parliamentary Elections, 2017

Parliamentary elections took place in France over the course of two rounds of voting.  Following the election of new President Emmanuel Macron, his centrist movement La République en Marche (LREM) was seeking to win seats in the French National Assembly for the first time. The first round of elections took place on Sunday, 11 June 2017 and the second round on Sunday, 18 June.  The parliamentary elections saw LREM win an absolute majority in the National Assembly.  

Background

The lower house of the French Parliament, the National Assembly, is comprised of 577 seats.  Under France’s two-round system, to be elected to the National Assembly a candidate must win 50 per cent of the vote in the constituency they are standing and turnout must exceed 25 per cent of registered voters.  If no candidate reaches this threshold, the two candidates with the highest vote share automatically advance to a run-off a week later, as do any candidates with more than 12.5 per cent of the electorate’s vote in each seat.  In this second round, the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected to the National Assembly.  

Legislative elections take place every five years, following shortly after Presidential elections.  If the President’s party wins a majority of seats, the President can form a government to pass their legislative programme.  However if this does not occur, the President must share power with the cabinet preferred by the majority of the National Assembly, this is known as ‘co-habitation’.  The threshold for a party to gain an absolute majority in the National Assembly is 289 seats.

Much of the focus on this election was as to whether President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist movement La République en Marche (LREM) could win an absolute majority in the National Assembly, thereby enabling him to implement economic and electoral reforms.  Since 2002, when French elections were aligned so that parliamentary elections would follow the Presidential run-off, the French electorate have granted the newly elected President’s party a majority in the National Assembly.  However, LREM (previously En Marche !) was formed only 14 months ago and the movement was seeking to win seats in the National Assembly for the first time.  Many of LREM’s candidates stemmed from civil society and an equal number of the movement’s candidates were women.  LREM allied with the Mouvement Democrate (MoDem) party, led by centrist François Bayrou, ahead of the election.
 
With polls forecasting LREM was likely to win a sizeable majority in the lead up to the election, opposition from across the political spectrum urged voters not to hand LREM too big a majority, citing a need for strong democratic debate.

Results

Turnout for the first round of voting on Sunday 11 June was 48.7 per cent, the lowest turnout in the first round of parliamentary elections since the formation of the Fifth Republic in 1958.  LREM and ally MoDem received the highest vote share, gaining 32.3 per cent of ballots cast. 

Les Républicains received 21.6 per cent of the vote; the far-right Front National party won 13.2 per cent; and the leftist La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) achieved 11 per cent of the vote share.  The Parti Socialiste, France’s largest party in the 2012 legislative elections and the party of former French President François Hollande, won 9.5 per cent of the vote.

Turnout in the second round of voting was 42.6 per cent, a record low.  LREM and its ally MoDem won an absolute majority, winning 350 seats in the National Assembly. 

Reflecting the Presidential election, the parliamentary elections saw a decline in vote for France’s two established parties of government – the centre-left Parti Socialiste and the centre-right Les Républicains, who between them have governed France since 1958.  Les Républicains were returned as the largest opposition party winning 113 seats but this is down from the 194 seats the party returned in 2012.  While, the Parti Socialiste returned 29 seats, a significant decline from the 280 seats the party won in the 2012 elections.

La France Insoumise, the party of the leftist former Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon who was elected to the National Assembly, returned 17 seats.  The Parti Communiste Français won 10 seats.  Front National returned 8 seats, with former Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen elected to the National Assembly for the first time.

Other parties elected were: Union des Démocrates et Indépendants (18); Divers Gauche (12); Divers Droite (6); Régionaliste (5); Divers (3); Parti Radical de Gauche (3); Ecologiste (1); Debout la France (1); Extrême droite (1).

233 women were elected to the National Assembly, representing 38.7 per cent of the lower house of parliament.

Reaction

Reacting to the result, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that “through their vote, a wide majority of the French have chosen hope over anger.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated President Macron for his “clear majority”, adding that she wished for “further good cooperation for Germany, France, Europe.”

President Macron is expected to announce a new cabinet within days.

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