Sat Jun 17th, 2017 at 09:38:55 AM EST
The political realignment taking place in France is nothing short of extraordinary. Before Emmanuel Macron won the presidential election last month it was assumed that, lacking a party, he would not be able to beat the Republicans, or even the Socialists, at the legislative elections, and a cohabitation would ensue. But at the first round last week the vote share of Macron's party La République En Marche was a historic high, with participation at a historic low. As a result, Macron's party is expected to win a blowout victory at the second round tomorrow. His majority could be large enough to allow him to reform the Constitution without the support of the other political parties. We could be looking at the 6th French Republic.
The median estimate from the four major French election polls that give seat projections is that LREM could win between 435 and 465 assembly seats out of 577. That's roughly 3/4 of the seats. If he can keep the party together - an open question as about 35% of his parliamentary candidates are new to politics - he might even be able to reform the constitution without the support of the other political parties.
The rules for constitutional reform in France are laid out in Article 89 of the constitution of 1958. A constitutional reform needs to be approved in a referendum. But Macron could avoid a referendum if he has a 3/5 majority of the so-called Congress, which is a joint session of the Assembly and the Senate. The Senate consists of 348 seats, so the Congress has 925 members. 3/5 of this is 555. If Macron wins 450 seats in the Assembly tomorrow, he's only 105 senators short of a constitutional reform majority. That's under 30% of all senators.
Now, the French Senate is an indirectly elected chamber, voted by an electoral college of 150,000 elected officials dominated by members of local and regional government. Surely the grip of the traditional party system will hold and prevent Macron from having a substantial group of senators? But recall: 42% of Macron's assembly candidates have been elected at least once, including 10% mayors or former mayors, and 10% (maybe former) local councillors. If Macron sweeps the legislative elections, who is to say that Republican local and regional officials won't see the writing on the wall and start defecting? And if the Socialists drop from 278 assembly seats to the 22-34 the polls are giving them, the exodus of socialist party local officials can be massive. Though, in the Senate, the "centre"-right dominates so what happens to the Republicans is more important.
Tellingly, there is already a movement afoot to form a pro-Macron group in the current Senate. According to Journal du Dimanche, a group of about 30 senators is already organising itself in this direction.
The French Senate is renewed by halves every 3 years, with the next election in September. This means that Macron would need to win 60% of the seats in the September Senate election in order to have his constitutional steamroller. But unless his government leads to a quick public opinion backlash, he may have no problem getting the 30% he needs after the next Senate election in 2020. And then the road to a 6th French Republic would be clear.
This won't lead to a Hungarian-style "illiberal democracy", but more likely to a "neoliberal democracy". But I will leave for the comments the discussion of what the Macronisme that looks about to replace Gaullisme is likely to resemble.