France - Huge voter abstention belies Macron's 'landslide' election
Clare Doyle, Committee for a Workers' International
Amid the trumpeting about a massive vote for the party of the new president, Emmanuel Macron, in the first round of France's parliamentary election on 11 June, a deep malaise pervades French society. This is indicated by a record number of voters staying away from the polling booths; less than half of the electorate turned out.
Macron's newly formed party, LREM (La République en Marche), may end up after the 18 June second round with 445 of the Assembly's 577 seats - "potentially the biggest majority since president Charles de Gaulle's conservatives and allies got 80% of seats in 1968" as Reuters commented (after 58% of the votes in the first round). But that was on a nearly 80% turnout.
It should also be remembered that it was a Pyrrhic victory as, within a year, a national referendum on which de Gaulle staked his future went against him and he retired from political life.
Macron was the first choice for president of less than 25% of voters. His vote of just 16% of those eligible to vote is actually less than the proportion of Britain's electorate who voted for the party of the hapless Theresa May.
The right-wing Republicans came second with 15.77% and Le Pen's Front National got 13.2%. Marine le Pen came top of the poll in her northern constituency of Henin-Beaumont (North), but may be defeated by the kind of 'anti' vote which saw Macron defeat her in the second round of the presidential election.
Her party could end up with no more than four seats in parliament. 15 are needed to form a parliamentary group with rights to be able to speak at each session and propose laws.
France Insoumise is the organisation of Jean-Luc Mélenchon who, with his pro-worker and anti-capitalist programme, won seven million votes in the presidential election, nearly reaching the second round.
It, too, is hoping for enough seats to form a parliamentary group. With 11% of the first round votes for parliament, it fared better than the ill-fated so-called Socialist Party (PS).
The vote for the previously governing pro-capitalist PS collapsed from 29.35% to 7.4% (9.5% with allies).
The party's presidential candidate, Francois Hamon, was defeated in his constituency as was the PS secretary, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who acknowledged that the first round marked an "unprecedented" setback for the party which was expected to get between 30 and 40 seats in total.
The future of the party is in the balance. As Gauche Révolutionnaire - the CWI affiliate in France - has explained, there could be a three-way split and an eventual disappearance of the one-time social democratic party that had both the president and a parliamentary majority until two months ago.
It was the refusal of the PS to take on the French bosses and the banks and make them pay for the economic crisis that saw workers, young people and sections of the middle class involved in a mass movement of strikes and demonstrations in the spring of last year.
Macron, with a background in banking and no party allegiance, had been taken into the Hollande government as Minister for the Economy to assist in pushing through the deeply unpopular changes to the country's labour law.
Now, as president, he has declared his intention to continue on this path and get new laws ensuring 'flexible labour markets' rammed through by presidential measures in June and ready for full adoption in September.
The trade union leaders have warned him to 'go slowly' on these plans, and there is some talk of protests in June, before the big shutdown of the summer holidays. But much more should be done.
Macron has been presented in the capitalist press internationally as neither left nor right, but his programme is blatantly pro-business - continuing attacks on the welfare state while lowering taxes on the rich.
He has also announced plans for France's state of emergency to be permanently written into law.
As Rachel Mahé of Gauche Révolutionnaire said in a post-election speech to those who supported her candidacy on behalf of France Insoumise in Drôme, southern France: "Macron's policies will amount to a 'social coup d'état'. Mass resistance must be built from today onwards!"
Rachel got a very creditable 10% of the vote - the highest score of the 'left' candidates in her constituency - far more than the Communist Party (who had refused to make an alliance with her, despite the proposal of a joint ticket) or the PS.
There can be all sorts of deals and realignments for the second round of elections on 18 June. There will be a big push for more people to go out and vote.
But, as Gauche Révolutionnaire has said, given the mass discontent among workers, the continuing industrial battles taking place, the counter-reforms in education and the lack of jobs for young people, the more important battles will be in the workplaces and on the streets.
The political follow-up consists in elaborating how a new left force can build on the success of Mélenchon's movement and arguing for clear socialist policies that can gather support and destroy the apparent invincibility of the Macron phenomenon.