PARIS — As two political outsiders battle to become France’s president ahead of a runoff next month, each is looking ahead to a biting reality: If they want to pass laws, they need lawmakers on their side.
And right now, their two parties combined command three lawmakers out of 925 in France’s Parliament.
Centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron and far-right rival Marine Le Pen both aim to capture the lower house of Parliament in June’s legislative elections. Their tally could make or break their presidencies — but in a nation where traditional parties are in disarray, few politicians are willing to predict what could happen.
Call it the Donald Trump dilemma. The outsider president came to Washington pledging to drain the swamp. He has found himself stymied by a shortage of allies in Congress.
The challenge may be particularly steep for Macron, who is the formidable front-runner ahead of the May 7 presidential runoff. Vanquished leaders of traditional parties have united behind him to attempt to deny Le Pen the presidency. But that unified front is unlikely to hold for the Parliament. And if Macron wins a mandate but flops in his bid to improve life for French citizens, the anti-E.U. Le Pen may come back stronger than ever.
“French voters want massive change. And you cannot change the way you do politics if you have the same faces,” said Macron spokesman Benjamin Griveaux. Macron’s year-old party has received at least 30,000 applications from people who want to run in June for the 577 seats of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, he said, and a full-time staff of nearly two dozen has been paging through the candidates. The first round of the legislative elections is June 11. The runoffs are a week later.
“One of the lessons of the vote that took place last Sunday is a deep willingness to have a renewal of our politicians,” Griveaux said, adding that he was confident that Macron’s party, On the Move, would win a majority and would not need to rely on other parties to pass its agenda if he is elected.
A parliamentary majority for the victorious president would follow historical precedent in modern France. But this is a precedent-shattering year, a fact tacitly acknowledged by President François Hollande on Tuesday, as he spoke at a memorial service for Xavier Jugelé, the police officer killed Thursday by a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
“What is needed is consistency, perseverance,” Hollande told a somber crowd that included both Macron and Le Pen, “rather than one-upsmanship and disruption.”
Macron won just 24 percent of Sunday’s first-round vote, the third-lowest victory share since 1965 — a warning sign of a lack of passionate support, analysts said. Almost half of French voters opted for anti-system candidates, compared with less than a third in the previous election in 2012.
Macron was economy minister until August, but the 39-year-old former investment banker has never held elected office. He has staked his improbable bid on a pledge to improve the French system, not explode it — but he has gotten as far as he has less on the strength of his message and more on the failings of his rivals, analysts say.
“It’s amazing what he’s doing,” said Dominique Reynié, a professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris. “It’s a masterpiece to become a president so quickly and so young, but the political situation fundamentally is very, very dangerous.”
“To have someone like Macron trying to make a majority with left and right,” he said, “is like the last chance for the political system.”
Recognizing the challenge, his party has entrusted heavyweights of French political life to run the legislative campaign. The goal, the campaign spokesman said, is for half of the candidates to be political neophytes. Half will be recruited from France’s political system, ideally from both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. And half the candidates will be women.
Already, some lawmakers from the defeated parties are looking beyond the presidential election to try to launch a comeback from the legislature.
Édouard Philippe, the mayor of Le Havre, said that some fellow members of the center-right Républicains party are advocating only a fleeting alliance with Macron, just long enough to defeat Le Pen on May 7.
“Some of my friends in the party can admit they will vote for Macron, but they are strongly advocating a position of opposition, and they hope to win the legislative election,” Philippe said.
He said that strategy risked tearing apart the nation.
“The risk of us getting Marine Le Pen elected this year is strong in my view, and I want to avoid that,” he said. “And the risk of Marine Le Pen getting elected in five years from now, if Macron fails, is strong as well.”
Le Pen’s team is also preparing for the legislative election, though it has historically struggled to overcome steep barriers in the electoral system. It captured only a single seat in the lower house in 2012, for example, even though she won 17.9 percent of the first round vote for the presidency.
“After Marine Le Pen is elected, it is possible that personalities from other parties will want to run under the National Front banner. We will change our list of candidates accordingly,” said National Front treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just. “If she is elected, this will be a major disruption in French political life, and in other parties as well.”
And if Macron wins, the National Front isn’t going anywhere, de Saint-Just said.
“We will be the most important, if not the only force of opposition to Macron. We would seek to be a pivotal force in the Parliament,” he said.
Virgile Demoustier contributed to this report.