PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Friday faced no-confidence motions in parliament and intensified protests after imposing a contentious pension reform without a vote in the lower house.

The situation presents Macron, who has only made occasional public comments on the matter, with one of his biggest challenges less than one year into his second and final mandate.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday invoked Article 49.3 of the constitution to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking angry demonstrations nationwide that saw 300 people arrested, according to the interior ministry.

French opposition lawmakers on Friday retaliated by filing the motion of no-confidence in the government, hoping to repeal the deeply unpopular law to hike the retirement age from 62 to 64.

“The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis,” said lawmaker Bertrand Pancher, whose motion was signed by independents and members of the broad left-wing NUPES coalition.

The far-right National Rally (RN) filed a second motion, but that was expected to get less backing. RN lawmaker Laure Lavalette, however, said her party would vote for “all” no-confidence motions filed.

“What counts is scuppering this unfair reform bill,” she said.

Borne’s cabinet is largely expected to survive any vote, thanks to backing from the opposition right-wing Republicans, despite an increasingly febrile political situation.

‘Won’t give up’

Across France, fresh protests erupted on Friday in the latest show of popular opposition to the bill since mid-January.

“We won’t give up,” said Philippe Melaine, a 49-year-old biology teacher. “There’s still hope that the reform can be revoked.”

‘Wreaking havoc’

Trains, schools, public services and ports have since January been affected by strikes against the proposed reform.

A rolling strike by municipal garbage collectors in Paris has caused about 10,000 tonnes of trash to pile up in the streets, according to the mayor’s office, attracting rats and putting off tourists.

Thousands of protesters massed opposite parliament on Thursday evening. Police used tear gas to clear protesters after a fire was lit in the centre of the historic Place de la Concorde, and similar scenes unfolded across France.

The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested across the country, including 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. “The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” he said.

According to polls, two-thirds of French people oppose the pension overhaul.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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