Monsieur Macrons Sense of Direct Democracy

Two-thirds of French voters chose Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential elections, marking the beginning of a stalemate in France’s participatory democracy. That’s because the newly elected president has so far offered few paths to citizen empowerment, reports Christophe Premat.

The 2017 election has brought a period of instability where a political majority will be hard to come by. Macron’s victory over Le Pen was only a partial success as he needs a majority in parliament to be able to govern. His charisma will not be sufficient for his candidates to win next month’s election for the legislature, and he needs to show a clear political profile.

His En Marche (“On the Move”) slogan is a tool created to win the presidential race, but it does not come with a network in parliament. When the French go to the polls again in June for the parliamentary elections, they may fail to choose En Marche candidates who are largely unkown to them. Instead, they might prefer to vote for people they know and who have a consistent political identity, meaning that the outcome of the parliamentary election could be quite different from the presidential ballot.

It is also rather doubtful that a political consensus will emerge regarding reforms that need to be tackled. Macron’s plans are not particularly detailed, with everything arranged around the concept of a strong leader.

Gospel show instead of people’s power experience

So far, the centrist En Marche movement has most resembled a gospel show with songs, speeches, snappy one-liners and video clips. En Marche itself is unlikely to be a strong movement as its profile is too weak. Nor is it a movement marked by participatory democracy. En Marche and “La France insoumise”, a far-left coalition led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, share some similarities with the Spanish movements Los Ciudadanos and Podemos. Most of all, I believe that the En Marche movement represents a political transition where parties are being forced to re-invent themselves.

Macron wants to use his mandate to initiate strong economic reforms, but so far he has given no indication of how to shape a social dialogue with trade unions and other organisations. There is also no real democratic element to his plans, although he said he might use the referendum as a tool if his reforms are not successful in parliament.

Macron even announced that he would cut short debates and govern by decree in order to introduce strong economic reforms in the beginning of his presidency. He has said too little about the environment, and there are no plans to give citizens a greater say in environmental issues.

Nor is there any proposal on the table to reform the institutions of the Fifth Republic. Macron simply wants to use the ballot to his own ends in order to be seen as a great reformist. All this is creating a political void in France which makes the current political situation particularly interesting.

Direct election of the President since 1962

In France, the presidential election works by a majority vote system of two rounds. Often, in the second round, voters choose one candidate simply to reject the other. The direct election of the president was made possible following a constitutional referendum in 1962 and every presidential election has always been a ballot vote where citizens elect their new head of state. Macron won the 2017 election with more than 66% of votes against Le Pen. He became the new president on May 15 after starting a new political movement just over a year ago. Side-lining the traditional political leaders and parties, Macron wants to push for a new way of thinking outside of the traditional left/right political spectrum. His political convictions are mainly liberal and he has called for a strong country within the context of globalisation.

The conservative Republicans might gain seats in the June election as they did well in the last mid-term elections, while the Socialist Party will struggle to survive as a bloc in parliament. As for the other parties, the far-right National Front might emerge with a parliamentary group of around 20 to 30 members, but that is far from certain under the current electoral system which stretches over two rounds. With the left-wing movement, La France insoumise, facing the same uncertainty, En Marche and the Republicans may dominate with two or three other minor political forces in power.

New situation – but no plan for democratisation?

This is the first time France faces such a fragmented situation since the Fifth Republic, its current governmental system, was created by Charles de Gaulle in 1958. It has often been argued that French voters are dissatisfied with their political parties and leaders. In fact, this dissatisfaction is already written into the French constitution as there are two ways of expressing national sovereignty in France: through the parliament or by referendum. Today, I am convinced that direct democratic tools could help to reshape the French political landscape.

French politics has always been seen as a game reserved for professional elites who have had a long career. But we need more change in political mandates with collective tools that are less focused on a single person. A new political culture cannot emerge through decrees but through the implementation of new tools that encourage citizen participation.

I’ve often heard people say that “we get the politicians we deserve”, but I think that with the help of new democratic tools we could transform that saying into “we are responsible for what happens”.

We deserve citizen empowerment. Macron has failed to present a plan to make the representative government more democratic, showing little interest in this matter as a candidate. This is a real pity as direct democratic tools could help Macron legitimise the strong reforms he needs.

So far, he has merely recycled some ideas that other candidates put forward about reducing the number of parliamentarians or introducing proportional representation to a certain degree – an election pledge made by Francois Hollande when he ran for president in 2012. The coming weeks will reveal Macron’s true political style as well as his strategies to create a strong political consensus behind his social and economic reforms.

Christophe Premat is an associate lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Stockholm (Sweden) and was a member of the French National Assembly for the French expatriates in Northern Europe.