French President Emmanuel Macron has a week to convince voters to give him an outright majority in parliament to ease the way for the controversial social and economic reforms he promised.
Macron's party and its allies are likely to remain the largest bloc in the 577-seat National Assembly, according to an average of five pollsters based on Sunday's first round of votes. But his majority will likely shrink dramatically, just as his margin of victory narrowed sharply in April's presidential election from his result five years ago, and he could lose it.
The grouping led by the 44-year-old centrist is expected to win between 262 and 301 seats. A total of 289 lawmakers is needed for an outright majority.
“Only a clear and strong majority will enable us to respond to the emergencies that weigh on the French people's daily lives and to face the challenges of the future,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a speech after polls closed.
Jean-Luc Melenchon's left-wing alliance is on track to become the second-biggest bloc with 164-208 seats. The far-right National Rally should get 17-36, while the conservative Republicans will likely take at least 40.
With an outright majority, Macron could push through his delayed plan to raise the retirement age and lower taxes. Without one, the government would often be forced to pick up extra votes to pass laws, either by forming a coalition or by pulling in votes on a case-by-case basis. That scenario would, at minimum, require concessions, and forming a coalition could mean giving more ministerial positions to rival parties to cement cooperation.
Melenchon's alliance has said it will seek to implement a “significant” tax on financial transactions. Shares of banks, carmakers and luxury-goods companies were among the biggest decliners in Paris. Renault was down 3.9%, Societe Generale was off 3.7% and Kering was 3.1% lower at 9:54 am in Paris
Macron faces other risks, too. If Melenchon's alliance, named Nupes, gets 185 lawmakers, it will be able to demand referendums. It will also be able to call for parliamentary investigations, and could flood debates over bills with amendment proposals.
The National Rally could also emerge as a disruptive force. It looks set to secure a formal legislative status meaning it will be able influence committees and get a designated amount of floor time to air its views, an important step in the decade-long effort by Marine Le Pen to bring the party to the centre of French politics.
France's legislative elections aren't linked to the proportion of the national vote obtained by each group. Although her party got nearly 19% of the overall vote, based on interior ministry figures, the National Rally is only expected to get around 5% of the seats in parliament. The group supporting Macron, called Ensemble!, got about a quarter of the total vote, just edging out the parties led by Melenchon.
The precise outcome of the second round of the vote on June 19 is hard to predict as it's not always clear with whom supporters of losing candidates will cast their lot.
Macron could end up forced to reshuffle his government, as ministers, including EU affairs minister Clement Beaune, are running to become lawmakers and will lose their current jobs if they don't get elected.
Melenchon came third in the presidential ballot and was written off as a spent force, along with other left-wing parties. But his fortunes reversed after communists, socialists and greens coalesced around him to form Nupes, and he eclipsed Le Pen to become Macron's biggest challenger.
The 70-year-old leader of France Unbowed has repeatedly called on his voters to turn out in force so that Nupes becomes the largest bloc, arguing Macron will then name him premier. Macron has indicated he won't do that -- though French presidents have tended to chose a head of government from within the new house majority.
Abstention was about a point higher than five years ago at a record 52.5%, the interior ministry said.
The mood was measured at a Parisian bar where Macron's supporters gathered to watch results trickle in, until Beaune arrived to applause. "The fight will be difficult but don't let yourselves be intimidated by those who claim victory," he said, adding that campaigning will resume in earnest Monday morning. "We can and must win together."
Outside the Nupes headquarters, also in the capital, some voters and officials were jubilant. "The fight is next week!" said Helene Hardy, a green party member in charge of elections. "Go out and vote! It is worth it!"