A former British prime minister once said that “a week is a long time in politics”. That’s exactly what Marine le Pen, the leader of the right wing National Rally in France, has discovered. The country held the first round of its last general election on June 30. The outcome suggested that le Pen would be the next prime minister. A week later, in the second round, her party was pushed back to the third place.

The New Popular Front, a last-minute alliance of Left and Green parties, got 182 seats in the National Assembly, Macron’s Ensemble coalition got 163, and the National Rally 143 seats. Overall, France has a hung Parliament, since no party has a majority in the 577 member Assembly. That’s not all. The French system is such that the president can be from a different party than its prime minister. That’s what has also happened. The president is in charge of foreign and security policy. The prime minister runs domestic policies. It’s a strange system that allows a peculiar system of checks and balances. It’s not the first time that France has a president who is from a different party than the prime minister. It happened before at the end of the 1990s.

It used to be said about the French Revolution that it had fundamental causes and immediate causes. This seems true even today. The fundamental cause for the current impasse is a strong French social preference for the Left. The immediate cause for the slow growth in popularity of the Right is unchecked immigration, which the Left doesn’t seem to mind much. This election has shown how split the voters are between the fundamental and immediate causes. It also shows how French politics since the mid-19th century hasn’t changed much and has been volatile and unpredictable. The French people don’t seem to be able to make up their minds between an ideological preference and a felt practical need. They often end up with indeterminate governments. It’s worth noting in this context that Iran too has had a similarly surprising result. A left leaning candidate has won the presidential runoffs. The election became necessary after President Raisi died in a helicopter crash last May. The successful candidate, Masood Pezeshkian, a heart doctor, is a reformist and it will be interesting to see how things shape up there.

It does not seem wise to generalise but it does seem as if in the group rights vs individual rights choice, for the moment at least there is an increasingly revealed preference for individual rights. France has been at the forefront of this movement since its revolution in 1789 and is still the intellectual leader when it comes to combining political democracy and economic socialism that can at times mimic communism. As the last Indian general election showed in June, India, too, is following that intellectual lead. It’s articulated differently in India but the overall approach and outcome are similar.