STORY: President Emmanuel Macron could lose his outright majority in France's parliament and the power to push through his economic reform agenda, after a strong showing by a new left-wing alliance in the first round of voting.
Abstentions were at a record high.
Macron's bloc and the NUPES coalition led by hardleft veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon each won 26% of the vote on Sunday (June 12), though it is next Sunday's (June 19) runoff that will determine the allocation of seats.
Macron's supporters are expected to extend their lead.
Melenchon casts Macron as a free-marketeer protecting the wealthy instead of hard-up families, as rampant inflation pushes up the cost of living and erodes wages.
Macron was re-elected in April, but to pursue his contested reform agenda - especially raising the retirement age - he needs allies in parliament.
An absolute majority would give him free rein to push it through.
But if his Ensemble! alliance loses its outright majority, the president will be forced into making messy pacts with center right or center left factions - on a bill-by-bill basis.
That could hobble him in his second term, according Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, director of BVA polling group.
"The most pessimistic estimations show a relative majority only. It would mean that Emmanuel Macron would have to find other alternatives to govern. For instance relying on other political movements ... [WHITE FLASH] But it would mean that every time there was a law to vote on, Emmanuel Macron will need to go find allies and it means governing by making compromises. It is not what characterized his first mandate, so he would have to radically change his way of ruling and it would be probably quite hard for the President."
Another scenario is if Melenchon's NUPES won a ruling majority in the National Assembly, defying opinion polls.
That would usher in a rare period of so-called "cohabitation", where the president and prime minister come from different camps.
Macron would hold fewer levers of power, upending his agenda. If he refused to name Melenchon as prime minister, it could also lead to a power struggle.
Sunday's first-round result took France's pulse, but its two-round voting system is designed to bring stability.
And ultimately, that's likely to favor Macron.