Emmanuel Macron is due to make a televised address in France on Wednesday night as he faces the biggest crisis of his career and an unprecedented political stalemate after losing control of parliament.
Since Macron’s centrist group lost more than 40 seats to secure an outright majority in Sunday’s legislative elections, he has been meeting with opposition leaders urgently to discuss how to build potential alliances.
A historic push by Marine Le Pen’s far-right anti-immigration National Rally has made it the largest opposition party.
An alliance of left-wing parties has also made big strides, led by the rebellious left-wing party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which, with around 72 seats, is now the third-largest party in parliament. Others in the left alliance include the Socialists and the Greens.
Le Pen, who came second to Macron in the April presidential election after promising to cut VAT on fuel and ban the Muslim headscarf from all public spaces, triumphantly welcomed her new party group to the National Assembly on Wednesday. With 89 new members, it is the largest number of far-right lawmakers in the French parliament in modern history.
“Millions of French people have been deprived of fair representation in parliament for decades, but today they are represented,” she said.
Le Pen’s party has historically done poorly in parliamentary elections when two-round voting did not feature any proportional representation, but this time it bucked that trend.
The new wave of far-right MPs included a significant number of local elected officials who proved that the far right had successfully grown locally across France, beyond its heartland in the northeast postindustrial and its stronghold in the south. There has been a surge of the far right in the southwest and in Gironde, in certain areas traditionally held by the left. Their party extended into Normandy, Burgundy, central France, the northeast and part of the Mediterranean coast.
Le Pen said his deputies included new profiles that better represented French society. His party’s rookie lawmakers included three police officers, three former journalists and an elderly carer.
A new far-right MP for Normandy was Katiana Levavasseur, a cleaner in a supermarket. The 52-year-old said she wanted to defend “the employment of unskilled French 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 scratch and end up in parliament”.
A 29-year-old delivery driver, Jorys Bovet, was elected on the far right in Allier, in central France. “I come from the real world. I have been working since I was 16,” he told local newspaper La Montagne. “I see the cost of living crisis, everyone is taxed, people are fed up.”
The far right José Beaurain, 50, also from the working class, was the first blind MP to enter Parliament. He worked in a music store as a piano tuner and was a former vice-champion of France in bodybuilding. He completely lost his sight in 2008 due to a genetic disease, declaring this week to the Parisian: “I was not elected because of that, I did not speak about it in the press, but it is great pride for me. It proves that anyone, even with a disability, can have dreams and ambition.”
Le Pen’s party, which immediately set to work preparing for the next presidential election five years from now at the end of Macron’s last term, hopes to use parliament as a way to ensure respectability and visibility as other parties continue to accuse him of being racist and anti-Muslim, claiming that his anti-immigration manifesto to keep France to the French is unconstitutional.
“We will be a firm opposition but also a responsible opposition, respectful of institutions and always constructive,” Le Pen said.
The party, which is deeply in debt, is also expected to get a large injection of funds from its new parliamentary group, which would help it repay an outstanding loan from a Russian bank, taken out for the 2014 election campaign.
In a separate development on Wednesday, French prosecutors said they were investigating a junior minister after two rape allegations were made against her. The allegations date back to when Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Secretary of State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships, worked as a gynecologist, according to French magazine Marianne.
The Paris hospital service said it had no knowledge of any complaint against him. The Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment, AFP reported.