Behind impressive Olympic preparations, France is being torn apart by deepening polarisation and political crisis

As he established France's Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle confided to a friend: "I am trying to give France the appearance of a solid, firm, confident and expanding country, while it is a worn-out nation... The whole thing is a perpetual illusion."

In the wake of the latest elections, those words have rarely rung so true. That illusion continues to this day.

On the streets of Paris, the show is about to begin. Preparations for the Olympics are nearly complete, huge stands going up on its streets and the banks of the Seine.

This is a city about to host the 30th summer Olympiad, exactly 100 years since it last did so.

Click here for latest updates on France elections

The French will use the event to celebrate their contribution to civilisation, the way they believe they have led the world in culture and the principles of liberty and equality forged in their revolution and the Enlightenment.

But behind that impressive Olympic veneer, the country is being torn apart by deepening polarisation and political crisis. De Gaulle's Fifth Republic has rarely been so severely tested.

France has seldom seemed so worn out politically, exhausted by widening polarisation, whatever the multi-million euro illusion being conjured in the City of Light.

Disenchantment with the status quo is strengthening the forces of extremism.

The country's president believed the antidote would be a surprise snap election. The outcome appears to be yet more chaos and division.

Yes, a much-feared far-right takeover has been averted, but the parliament is now divided between three main factions who all loathe each other. Working together for the good of the nation seems a distant prospect.

Yards from the Olympic stands going up on the Champs Elysee, in his presidential palace, Emmanuel Macron plots his next move.

Opinions differ on the wisdom of his decision to call elections.

'Weakened' Macron emerges from election

Rym Momtaz, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says Mr Macron has strengthened neither himself nor French diplomacy.

"Emmanuel Macron emerges from the snap election weakened and kind of isolated," Ms Momtaz says.

"So he's now looking at parties that are now stronger than him in parliament that are very opposed to his own policies and whose priorities are actually to take apart his legacy."

It's all a far cry from the French president's triumphant rise to power seven years ago. He promised then a break from the left-right battles of French politics, but they are back with a vengeance threatening to consume his presidency.

Becoming leader at the same time as Donald Trump in America, Mr Macron was hailed as a saviour of western democracy, but is now being blamed by many for crippling it in France.

Others though, say the crisis should not be overstated.

Plus ca change, they argue.

'An elected monarch'

France is used to having a chaotic parliament and a haughty president ruling by decree. After all, Mr Macron has been a lame duck president since losing his majority in parliament two years ago.

He has been able to rule despite that predicament because of the omnipotence De Gaulle and the Fifth Republic endowed the presidency.

"The whole idea of the constitution", Paris-based British journalist Peter Allen told Sky News, "is you have this almost King-like figure, and they call it an elected monarch, who can pretty much do what he likes and rule by decree".

Mr Macron has done so for two more years and could continue he says till his term is up in 2027.

Read more:
What the result means and how a new government can be formed

Who is hard-left leader dubbed 'France's Jeremy Corbyn'?

"So with all this division, you have this one man who's the president, with enormous powers. He is fit to govern and he will carry on governing so that's what I think we're looking at over the next three years," Mr Allen added.

Outside the Elysee Palace, the statue of Charles De Gaulle looks on.

The Fifth Republic he founded was a response to the chaos and petty squabbling of the Fourth. France, he believed, was so fractious it was ungovernable without a powerful president.

Decades on, the intense divisions and fractures shown up by this election only reinforce that impression.

👉 Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts 👈

But at what price does the president they call Jupiter rule without any deference to the will of the people expressed through parliament and these elections?

Will his aloofness only strengthen the far right and its supporters?

They will be waiting along with extremists on the left, gathering more strength, believing their moment has yet to come - and he is only helping them.