Unexpected it was. The recent legislative elections showed French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble has lost absolute majority in the lower house of the French parliament. Shocking it may be for casual France-watchers. But, seasoned politicians see in this debacle a possibility of picking up nuggets of political wisdom.

Lesson 1: Managing top-down brings misery in a coalition

Political veterans know well top-down management primarily involves the leaders in decision-making. These leaders have minds of their own, decide on the course of action independently and communicate later. Put differently, the top-down style treats juniors as programmable robots. This results in disconnect, poor decision-making and lack of creativity within the ministerial team.

Macron’s cardinal blunder was to manage top-down when he was not the supreme leader, when the far-right is rising and the left-alliance is turning more defiant. Such a situation made Macron’s agenda complex. At the end, voters saw Macron struggling to walk the taut rope. This clumsiness influenced voters’ decision.

So, the lesson for politicians heading difficult coalitions is this. Strive to strike a participative balance. Make efforts to create equilibrium in the coalition. Do not give in to the temptation to act a la Xi Jinping or a Vladimir Putin. Never try to thrust from the top when you are not the sole arbiter. Do not foment resentment among your alliance partners.

Lesson 2: Passage of bills more critical for any politician

The jolting fact here is this. A newly-elect Macron’s failure to win absolute parliamentary majority is a first in two decades. This failure will hobble Macron in getting his bills go through seamlessly. Politicos firmly believe seamless functioning is more important than an authoritative top-down image. Hankering after such an image helps no politician over the long haul.

Macron cannot be an exception to this. Now on, Macron will have to forge quick fix alliances to ensure hassle-free passage of his bills. Such a predicament is sure to make Macron waste much time and energy in hammering out partnerships of convenience. He will be destined to compromise forever.

Bad news for the youthful Macron, whose new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne too endorsed this argument. Reportedly, she was quoted saying, “……we will work on building a majority of action….and the government will work with other political parties to build good compromises” (Italic emphasis added).

Lesson 3: There is no substitute for committed engagement

Engagement is another area where Macron was found wanting. He was less inclined to engage with his voters, ministers and alliance partners. During the elections too, Macron was visibly disengaged from friendly campaigning. This reflected poorly on his voter-interaction skills. Expectedly, voter turnout was about 46 per cent, the second-lowest since 1958.

True, Macron campaigned a little. He might say he was busy with French diplomacy involving Ukraine. This excuse will not jell as he could have found time to talk with his voters and alliance partners. Neither did he put in place a clear campaign framework nor did he make efforts to keep his coalition partners on tap.

Lesson 4: Heart of the political system matters the most

While the French political system spins around the President, its soul remains treasured in the national parliament. Yet, Macron ended up distancing himself from his party men, drifted away from the heart of the French political system and swam closer to his centrist allies. Macron may say expediency called for such a move. But, his action failed to win the polls.

Not appreciating these ground realities, Macron allowed greater leeway to the centre-right Horizons. Worse, the founder of Horizons is Macron’s former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, a fiscal pro and not a pushover. Thus, Macron failed to place his nation’s political system in the background and the emerging parliamentary realities in the foreground. This conceded considerable leeway to Macron’s wily political opponents. Such misdemeanours can cost any popular leader the parliamentary majority he enjoys.

Lesson 5: Forget history and you are sure to repeat it

This epigrammatical quote is now quite a cliché. Nevertheless, Macron could have avoided the debacle had he remembered what happened in 1988. During François Mitterrand’s presidency, the Socialist Party did not enjoy absolute majority in the National Assembly. This pushed Mitterand to lure lawmakers on the far left or on the far right to push the bills through. Macron would do well to recollect history.

Whether Macron is able to recall history or not, the consequences are getting terrible now. An otherwise stable France looks now quite shaky with no clear verdicts and vertically split. Alliances are baying for each other’s blood, and for the blood of a centrist President. Tragically, Macron resembles an Alice lost in the wonderland of divisive French politics.

So, the message for Macron is straight and simple: manage France differently. Top-down management may be fine for extracting performance, but it does not fetch votes. Unilateralism does not win electoral acceptance. Change your ways or the voters will change you.

Lesson 6: Fight the temptation of doing your way

Macron is notorious for having developed his own style of governance. He is said to be a non-believer of delegation, participation and power-sharing. In an oppressive parliamentary climate of confrontation, divisiveness and denigration, sharing is much needed for building bridges between factions, erecting consensus among groups and cementing friendships in the house. Macron had already stopped appreciating this truism.

Macron ceased to be a facilitator which he was supposed to be. On the contrary, he ended up being a controller of the parliament. There is a lesson for political leaders here: Do it alone and you exit alone. By doing everything alone, Macron has changed France. Today, France is immobilised with confusion and uncertainty. Divisive politics is on the rise.

Factionalism is running high. Inflation is at a record high. Cost of living has reached a point of crisis. Populism is becoming a favourite theme for voters. The upshot of these realities: popular perception of Macron being a ‘President of the Rich’ is gaining acceptance.

This is not the France Macron had promised voters. Talks of revamping the pension system and raising the retirement age to 65 will now get muffled out. Macron will have to opt for a bill-by-bill consensus and this will hobble his otherwise well-meaning efforts.

To add to his misery, Macron’s political problems may become a headache for the European Union, what with Ukraine War continuing. Plus Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Far Left and the National Rally’s Marine Le Pen are Macron’s trenchant Europhobic political opponents. They are sure to make the situation more difficult for Macron.

Lesson 7: Do not end up as a victim of your own success

During his first presidential term, a centrist Macron could effortlessly push the far-right and the far-left to the fringes. He could assemble the best talents to make his plans actionable. Thus, he used to look invincible. The situation has changed and it looks difficult now, what with the state of the economy and a strident opposition ready to pounce at every slip.

How did this happen? Enamoured by his own success, Macron quickly turned idealistic. He hopped on to the bandwagon of long-term reforms in pension, energy and education. But, sadly, he went about his task unitarily, giving rise to charges of authoritarianism and abuse of power.

Blinded by his success of his previous tenure, Macron was too drunk to recognise France’s traditional aversion to coalition politics. Thus, he laboured on with his alliance, where he is the indisputable monarch. Therein lie the contradictions he helped to introduce.

In Conclusion

What now for Macron? His to-do list keeps getting longer. First of all, he needs to change his style of functioning, govern by consensus and not control. He needs to become open, actionable and tactful. If he fails, he is sure to invite a no-confidence motion which would crash his government. This will ram France into another parliamentary poll France can ill-afford now.

Speaking on Macron’s debacle, the leftist Melenchon had this to say: ““We have succeeded …… to overthrow [the president] who …….has been elected for who knows what.” If Macron fails to learn the lessons, a restive France will soon discover the truth in this quote. If and when this happens, it will be a tragedy for centrism and undesirable win for politics of the far-right and the far-left.