Will Emmanuel Macron Be Able to Run France If He Wins the Presidency?

Political novice’s year-old party will have to secure majority of parliamentary seats in June elections for new president to implement his agenda

By David Gauthier-Villarsand, William Horobin
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PARIS—Political novice Emmanuel Macron is widely expected to win the French presidency on May 7, but he will need a big victory in yet another crucial round of elections to become more than a mere figurehead.

For Mr. Macron to be able to implement his policies if he defeats far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff, his upstart movement will have to secure a parliamentary majority in June.

Turning En Marche, or “On the Move,” the party that Mr. Macron founded barely a year ago, into a political machine will be a tall order for the 39 year-old former investment banker, who on Sunday won the first round of the presidential contest with 24% of the vote.

So far, Mr. Macron, who is running for office for the first time, hasn’t named anyone who would join his administration, and has announced only a handful of the candidates who will run under his colors for the 577 seats in the two-round legislative vote scheduled June 11 and 18.

Without a majority, French presidents have historically been smacked by a constitutional punishment known here as “cohabitation”—a form of power-sharing under which a prime minister from the opposition runs the government, effectively squeezing the head of state into a ceremonial role.

The presidential and legislative elections have different dynamics, warned Famke Krumbmüller, analyst at political risk consultancy OpenCitiz. She said having Mr. Macron’s stamp of approval may not be enough for En Marche candidates to unseat rivals in constituencies where voters enjoy cultivating a direct bond with their elected officials.

“The question is whether they will be able to win against rivals with local bases, even if those rivals’ parties got smashed in the presidential vote,” Ms. Krumbmüller said.

Mr. Macron is expected to win the May 7 runoff against Ms. Le Pen with 61% of the vote, according to a survey conducted by the OpinionWay polling agency during and after Sunday’s first round.

If she prevailed in the runoff, Ms. Le Pen would face a different set of obstacles. Unlike Mr. Macron, she can rely on a nationwide and disciplined apparatus, as well as on the National Front’s deep-rooted local bases. But her performance in the first round of the presidential election—she garnered 21.3% of the vote, up from 17.9% in 2012—suggests she has yet to broaden the party’s mainstream appeal.

That is necessary to succeed in the two-round voting system introduced by Charles de Gaulle upon fathering the Fifth Republic, a new constitution designed to squeeze political majorities out of France’s fractured postwar landscape.

Emmanuel Macron Advances
En Marche Centrist
24.0%
Marine Le Pen Advances
National Front Far-right
21.3%
François Fillon
Les Républicains Center-right
20.0%
Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Indomitable France Far-left
19.6%
Benoît Hamon
Socialist Party Center-left
6.4%
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan
Debout la France Far-right
4.7%
Jean Lassalle
Democratic Movement Centrist
1.2%
Philippe Poutou
New Anticapitalist Party Far-left
1.1%
François Asselineau
Popular Republican Union
0.92%
Nathalie Arthaud
Workers' Struggle Far-left
0.64%
Jacques Cheminade
Solidarity and Progress
0.18%

In recent years, left and right mainstream parties have often coalesced in second-round votes to block the National Front, saying its history of xenophobia made it unfit to govern. The party currently holds only two seats out of 577 in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

The outcome of the legislative election will provide a measure of French voters’ repulsion toward the socialist and conservative parties that have alternated to govern France in the past four decades.

On Sunday, both Benoît Hamon of the ruling Socialist Party, and François Fillon of the conservative Les Républicains, were ejected from the presidential race, garnering 6.4% and 20%, respectively.

Despite the humiliating blow, leaders of Les Républicains vowed to quickly regroup, conquer a majority in parliament, and impose a “cohabitation” on Mr. Macron.

“It’s wasn’t our ideas that were defeated on Sunday, it was our candidate,” Daniel Fasquelle, a lawmaker for Les Républicains and mayor of Le Touquet, a resort town, told French television. “Our ideas are shared by a majority across the country and we will demonstrate that in the legislative vote.”

Socialist Party officials sought to display similar fighting spirit, saying they would line up candidates in all the constituencies against Mr. Macron’s recruits. Michel Rombaut, a volunteer in Mr. Hamon’s campaign and a Socialist for nearly 40 years, said Mr. Macron’s candidates should expect fierce resistance.

“There are elected officials who have been in place for years and who have done a fantastic job,” he said. “Many are big local personalities and it will be very difficult to dethrone them.”

Even if she lost to Mr. Macron, supporters of Ms. Le Pen expressed hope she would have a strong shot at becoming the leading face of the opposition by feeding off the leadership disarray besetting the Socialists and Les Républicains.

“It’s incredible, but the two parties that have dominated the Fifth Republic are out,” said Philippe Murer, an adviser to Ms. Le Pen.

On Monday, Mr. Fillon stepped back from the coming legislative battle, telling troops at Les Républicains that he no longer had the “legitimacy” to fight with them.

During the campaign, Mr. Macron has said he was confident in his capacity to build a parliamentary majority. He has been looking to recruit candidates from outside the political arena and pledged to enforce strict gender parity when naming them.

Speaking to supporters on Sunday evening, he set to work, spreading his arm wide open and saying: “Every woman and man is welcome. I won’t ask those who join me where they come from.”


—Nick Kostov contributed to this article.

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