France’s progressives keep out the far right, but what could happen next?

<span>People gather in Paris’s Place de la République following the shock exit poll during the second round of the parliamentary elections.</span><span>Photograph: Aurélien Morissard/AP</span>
People gather in Paris’s Place de la République following the shock exit poll during the second round of the parliamentary elections.Photograph: Aurélien Morissard/AP

The New Popular Front (NFP), a left-green alliance dominated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s radical left Unbowed France (LFI), has emerged as the shock winner of France’s snap election, with 182 MPs in the 577-seat assembly.

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Together coalition will have 163 deputies, while Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) and its allies, who last week were eyeing a majority, have 143.

While the winner was a surprise, the result is as expected: a hung parliament of three opposing blocs with hugely different platforms and no tradition of working together – and, under the terms of France’s constitution, no new elections for a year.

So, with Macron having promised not to step down until presidential elections in 2027, what’s likely to happen next? Here’s a look at the options.

Against all expectations, the NFP alliance of LFI, the Socialist party (PS), Greens and Communists, will be the largest force in parliament , but is still a long way from the 289 seats required for an absolute majority.

Mélenchon, a veteran firebrand, on Sunday demanded Macron appoint a prime minister from the alliance and implement the entirety of the NFP’s programme. Others, including in his coalition, said that with no majority the leftist bloc would be forced to negotiate.

France’s constitution allows the president to choose whoever he wants as prime minister. In practice, because parliament can force the resignation of the government, the head of state invariably chooses someone who will be acceptable to the assembly.

Normally that would be someone from the largest bloc in parliament – but appointing a radical left prime minister would run the risk of repeated no-confidence votes backed not just by the centre right and far right, but possibly from the president’s camp too.

Unlike many continental European countries, France has had no experience of broad coalitions since the chaotic days of the Fourth Republic, but several figures from the left and centre have previously suggested it could be a solution to a hung parliament.

The former prime minister Édouard Philippe, the longstanding Macron ally François Bayrou and the Greens leader Marine Tondelier were among those to say last week an anti-RN coalition, from the moderate left to the centre right, could unite around a basic legislative programme.

On Sunday, several said something similar would also now be needed. “We are in a divided assembly; we have to behave like adults,” said Raphaël Glucksmann, who led the Socialist list in the European elections. “Parliament must be the heart of power in France.”

Nobody had won, Bayrou noted, adding that the “days of an absolute majority are over” and it would be up to “everyone to sit at a table, and accept their responsibilities”. The PS leader, Olivier Faure, said the vote must “open the way to a real refounding”.

Much will depend on LFI’s willingness to compromise – and on the moderate left’s response if Mélenchon’s party refuses to play ball. The hard-left party has long said it would only ever enter government in order to “implement our policies, and no one else’s”.

Many of Macron’s centrists, meanwhile, have said they will not enter an alliance with LFI. Early estimates suggested it may be possible that an alliance between Macron’s forces, the PS, the Greens and a few others could scrape the slimmest of majorities.

But experts say a mainstream coalition, while possible in principle, would be hard to build given the parties’ diverging positions on issues such as tax, pensions and green investment. It could also be vulnerable to censure motions backed by both LFI and the RN.

“It’s a nice idea on paper, but there’s a huge gap between what’s possible and what’s actually achievable,” said Bertrand Mathieu, a constitutional law expert at the Sorbonne University in Paris. “And its programme could envisage only a bare minimum.”

Rather than attempt to put together a formal coalition government, the outgoing prime minister, Gabriel Attal, suggested last week that mainstream parties could form different ad hoc alliances to vote through individual pieces of legislation.

Macron has tried this strategy since losing his majority in 2022 but with limited success, having to resort on numerous occasions to special constitutional powers such as the unpopular article 49.3 to push legislation through without a parliamentary vote.

The president could also consider appointing a technocratic government, of the kind familiar to countries such as Italy, made up of experts such as economists, senior civil servants, academics, diplomats and business or trade union leaders.

France has no experience of such governments. Jean-Philippe Derosier, a constitutionalist at Lille University, said there was no “institutional definition” of them either, so it would be “a normal government, free to act as it wishes – as long as it has parliament’s backing”.

Finally, Macron could ask Attal – who on Sunday said he would hand in his resignation – to stay on at the head of some form of caretaker government.

Whatever is agreed (or not), it seems likely that France is heading for a lengthy spell of political uncertainty and instability, potentially characterised by at best a minimum of legislative progress, and at worst by parliamentary deadlock.

Dominique Reynié, a political scientist, said a bare-bones government might be no bad thing, portraying it as a “government of reparation” that might steady the ship and try to “fix what’s not working” for a population tired of political upsets.

But others have warned that the far-right RN and perhaps Mélenchon’s LFI would portray any stopgap solutions as a plot by the political elites to deprive them of power, leading to an even more destructive presidential election campaign in 2027.

Macron has so far ruled out resigning before that date – but it may become more likely if complete paralysis prevails.

“France today has rejected rule by the far right,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group consultancy. “But the results point to deadlock and paralysis, even if the left has outperformed expectations while the far right has seriously underperformed.”