French President Emmanuel Macron is projected to lose his outright majority in the National Assembly – the most powerful branch of the country’s parliament.
His centrist Ensemble alliance was set to win the most seats but the predicted hung parliament was a setback for Mr Macron whose reform plans could now be hit amid a period of political uncertainty that may require power sharing.
A left-wing coalition of socialists and greens known as the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES) and led by 70-year-old Jean-Luc Melenchon was on course to be the second biggest alliance after the final round on voting.
People across France went to the polls on Sunday to decide the 577 members of the assembly, which is the lower house of parliament and is key to voting in laws.
Mr Macron, 44, needed 289 seats for an absolute majority. One projection showed his alliance was set to win 224. Another projection put the total at 210-250, while a third said it was 200-260.
NUPES was predicted to secure 149-200 seats, according to one estimate.
Mr Melenchon told supporters that the result was a “totally unexpected and unseen” situation.
Mr Macron was re-elected president in April and an overall majority in the assembly today would have given him the mandate to push through his campaign promises, which include tax cuts, raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 65, and increasing European Union integration.
But Mr Macron could be plunged into a series of protracted negotiations on domestic policy at a time when the war in Ukraine has put foreign concerns centre stage.
His coalition could seek an alliance with the conservatives or run a minority government that will have to negotiate laws on a case-by-case basis.
The conservative Les Republicains and allies could get as many as 100 seats, which could potentially make them kingmakers.
And Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party could also pick up as many as 100 seats, the projections showed – its best result on record.
“It’s Emmanuel Macron’s arrogance, his contempt for the French… which made him a minority president,” said the party’s Jordan Bardella.
In Mr Macron’s camp, Gabriel Attal told TF1 TV: “Nobody has won,” while government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire said the results were disappointing but noted the alliance was still set to be the biggest group in parliament.
In last week’s first vote, the left-wing opposition made a surprisingly strong showing, sending jitters through Mr Macron’s allies.
The result today could be seen as unusual – after electing a president, French voters have generally handed them a comfortable parliamentary majority a few weeks later, with Francois Mitterrand a rare exception in 1988.