The Trouble for France's Next President

Macron May Win But Will He Govern?

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or "Onwards!," and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, attends a campaign rally in Chatellerault, France, April 28, 2017. Regis Duvignau / Reuters

Emmanuel Macron, France’s former economy minister, who led the first round of presidential elections on April 23, will very likely be the Fifth Republic’s next leader. He is widely expected to win the May 7 runoff against Marine Le Pen of the National Front and after his reasoned performance at yesterday's presidential debate, he is up in the polls with 63 percent of viewers finding him the "most convincing" candidate. But his victory, as unprecedented as it would be for the centrist candidate who has never held elected office, will not necessarily give him governing power.

France has a hybrid constitution whereby the regime is presidential like that of the United States when the president’s party holds a majority of seats in Parliament, and parliamentary like that of the United Kingdom when it does not. Given the parliamentary election, which involves 577 constituencies, is set up to favor the established parties, Macron’s newly formed party En Marche! (or “Onward!”) stands little chance of winning more than a small fraction of seats in June. This means that the center of power for the next five years will fall not to the president but to the prime minister. 

Several times in the 1980s and 1990s, the president sat idle in his palace, with no sovereign authority, while the prime minister, coming from the opposition party, conducted the affairs of the state. A semi-fictional satire, Les Saveurs du Palais, depicts President François Mitterrand, twice the victim of such a scenario, or what the French call cohabitation, languishing in the Elysian palace as a potiche (literally “decorative vase”), whose only political fight, which he loses, is to retain his well-staffed kitchen. His tormentor, then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, would later, as president, meet the same fate in 1997 after a badly called election, leaving him politically impotent for five years. To avoid a repeat, Chirac amended the constitution in 2000, aligning the terms for president and Parliament to five years each, with quasi-simultaneous elections. Voters were

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