After the legislative elections, the Fifth Republic “at the foot of the wall”

After the legislative elections, the Fifth Republic “at the foot of the wall”

It allowed the hyper-presidency, tolerated cohabitation and overcame a relative majority: the Fifth Republic now finds itself “at the foot of the wall” after legislative elections which gave Emmanuel Macron the narrowest majority in its history, believe the constitutionalists.

With 245 deputies, the presidential coalition obtained the lowest relative majority in the history of the Fifth Republic. It misses 44 seats to reach the bar of 289 and reach an absolute majority.

This score is clearly lower than the 275 deputies that François Mitterrand had from 1988 to 1993, a relative majority which had enabled him to govern by seeking support sometimes on the left sometimes on the right, and with a large reinforcement of 49:3, used at 39 times to bypass Parliament.

It was enough to relaunch the debate on the 1958 Constitution: “It is the end of the Fifth Republic as we have known it”, notably affirmed the environmentalist MEP David Cormand on FranceInfo.

On the side of the constitutionalists, we are more cautious: “Until now, the Fifth Republic has adapted to all situations” such as cohabitation or the relative majority of 1988, reminds AFP Dominique Rousseau, professor of constitutional law at Pantheon-Sorbonne University.

“I think it is now up against the wall” with a majority very far from the threshold of 289 seats and three very distinct blocs which are the presidential coalition, the left of Nupes (LFI, PS, EELV and PCF) and the National Rally, to which are added the 61 LR deputies.

“But if it manages to adapt, it will demonstrate that the Fifth Republic can adapt to all situations,” he explains.

The entrance to the Constitutional Council in Paris, July 21, 2020 (AFP/Archives – Ludovic MARIN)

Constitutionalist Anne-Charlène Bezzina also refuses to believe in the end of the Fifth: “It is often said that it is running out of steam and yet I think that it also demonstrates its extreme flexibility since it has allowed a scenario like that of yesterday”, she says on RMC.

“What is criticized for it is often what makes its great quality, that is to say that it adapts to many very different situations”, she adds, stressing that the elections Sunday paradoxically ended with “a proportional result with a majority vote”, the elected Assembly being ultimately “a photograph of the presidential election”.

– An air of the Fourth Republic –

A lack of a clear majority which nevertheless alarms those who fear that the country will become ungovernable as before 1958.

On LCP, Benjamin Morel, professor of public law, recognizes that the National Assembly elected on Sunday “resembles a lot like a hemicycle of the end of the Fourth Republic (where) a conglomeration of centrist groups which did not agree on everything , governed the country with two parties with which they did not ally themselves: the Gaullists and the Communists”.

“What is reassuring is that Michel Debré wrote a constitution to hold an assembly where there could not be a majority,” he recalls. “Our constitutional law is therefore relatively well equipped to hold simple majorities (…) even if it will be very complicated for the majority to pass bills in the next five years”, he underlines.

French political scientist Pascal Perrineau on January 22, 2019 in Paris (AFP/Archives - Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT)
French political scientist Pascal Perrineau on January 22, 2019 in Paris (AFP/Archives – Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT)

Political scientist Pascal Perrineau agrees. In his eyes, the Fifth Republic “is certainly faced with a political crisis, but it can overcome it in several ways”, evoking in particular three tracks allowed by the Constitution.

It is first of all “a government alliance” between the majority and an opposition party like Les Républicains which would resemble a German-style legislative agreement. Or the search on a case-by-case basis for a majority for each piece of legislation, as in the period between 1988 and 1993. Finally, the president can dissolve the Assembly and convene new legislation.

For Ms. Bezzina, however, MEPs have an interest in working together. If this is not the case, it would mean that France is too fractured to manage to work”, she warns.

“I think the idea is therefore to show that within this cenacle which represents the people that is the National Assembly, we can arrive on a case-by-case basis to reach majorities and perhaps to agree” , she hopes.


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