Emmanuel Macron is to make a TV address to France on Wednesday night, as he faces the biggest crisis of his career and unprecedented political deadlock after losing control of parliament.
Since Macron’s centrist grouping fell more than 40 seats short of an absolute majority in parliament elections on Sunday, he has been urgently meeting opposition leaders to determine how to build potential alliances.
A historic surge by Marine Le Pen’s far-right, anti-immigration National Rally saw it become the biggest single opposition party.
A left-wing alliance of parties also made big gains, led by the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party, which on about 72 seats is now the third biggest party in parliament. Others in the left alliance include the Socialists and the Greens.
Le Pen, who came second to Macron in April’s presidential election after promising to cut VAT on fuel and ban the Muslim headscarf from all public spaces, triumphantly welcomed her new party group at the national assembly on Wednesday. With 89 new members, it is the highest number of far-right legislators in the French parliament in modern history.
“Millions of French people were deprived of fair representation in the parliament for decades but today they are represented,” she said.
Le Pen’s party has historically fared badly in parliament elections when the two-round vote featured no proportional representation, but this time they bucked that trend.
The new intake of far-right members of parliament included a significant number of local councillors who proved that the far right had successfully expanded at grassroots level across France, beyond its heartlands in the post-industrial north east and its stronghold in the south. There was a surge for the far-right in the south-west and in Gironde, in some areas traditionally held by the left. They party expanded in Normandy, Burgundy, central France, the north-east and across a swathe of the Mediterranean coast.
Le Pen claimed her members of parliament included new profiles that better represented French society. Novice legislators for her party included three police officers, three former journalists and one carer for older people.
One new far-right MP for Normandy was Katiana Levavasseur, a supermarket cleaner. The 52-year-old said she wanted to defend “the employment of France’s unskilled workers who, like me, get up early in the morning to earn €11.75 an hour”. She described herself as living proof “that you can start from nothing and end up in parliament”.
A 29-year-old delivery driver, Jorys Bovet, was elected for the far right in the Allier in central France. “I’m from the real world. I’ve been working since I was 16,” he told the local paper, La Montagne. “I can see the cost of living crisis, everyone is taxed, people have had enough.”
The far right’s José Beaurain, 50, also from a working-class background, was the first blind MP to enter parliament. He used to work in a music shop as a piano tuner and was a former bodybuilding vice-champion for France. He lost his sight fully in 2008 from a genetic condition, telling Le Parisien this week: “I wasn’t elected because of that, I didn’t talk about it in the press, but it’s a great point of pride for me. It proves that anyone, even with a disability, can have dreams and ambition”.
Le Pen’s party, which has immediately set about preparing for the next presidential election in five years at the end of Macron’s final term, is hoping to use parliament as a means to secure respectability and visibility as other parties continue to accuse it of being racist and anti-Muslim, saying its anti-immigration manifesto to keep France for the French is unconstitutional.
“We’ll be a firm opposition but also a responsible opposition, respectful of the institutions and always constructive,” Le Pen said.
The party, which is deeply in debt, also stands to gain a big funding injection from its new parliament group, which would help it pay off an outstanding loan from a Russian bank, taken out for election campaigning in 2014.
In a separate development on Wednesday, French prosecutors said they were investigating a junior minister after two allegations of rape were brought against her. The allegations go back to when Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, the state secretary for development, Francophonie and international partnerships, worked as a gynaecologist, according to the French magazine Marianne.
The Paris hospital service said it had no knowledge of any complaints against her. The foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment, AFP reported.