President Emmanuel Macron has shunned the French Parliament and opted to push through a highly unpopular pension reform bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit.
On Thursday, his administration used a special constitutional power amid calls for a no-confidence motion from the opposition – a move that is being met with protests in Paris.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne triggered a special procedure to push the bill through the National Assembly without a vote, provoking shouts and chants from left-wing lawmakers brandishing placards against the reform that read “No to 64 years”.
The move, using Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, will ensure the bill is adopted, but it shows Macron and his government failed to garner enough of a majority in parliament.
The country’s far-right opposition has said it will file a motion of no-confidence in the government.
The decision is a “total failure” for Macron and Borne “cannot stay” in her post, said Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in the last two presidential elections, who now leads National Rally (RN) deputies in parliament.
The bill is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term. The unpopular plan has prompted major strikes and protests across the country since January.
“Forcing through a bill by decree is something that’s done rarely and it is seen as something of a failure of politics in many respects,” said Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from outside the French Parliament.
Butler said protesters and trade unions have said no matter what happens, they would continue to rally against the bill.
“Opinion polls suggest anywhere between two-thirds to three-quarters of the French public are against a bill that they see as unfair and that they say is eroding their rights,” said Butler.
Later on Thursday, a spokeswoman said French unions planned another day of strikes and protests against the pension reform.
“The united union front continues to demand the withdrawal of the reform and calls for another day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, March 23,” hardline CGT union official Catherine Perret told a news conference.
Earlier, Borne, the prime minister, was greeted by boos as she arrived at the National Assembly to announce the special procedure.
The session was suspended for two minutes after left-wing lawmakers singing the national anthem prevented Borne from speaking.
When the session resumed, Borne took the floor. But her speech was largely drowned out by boos and chants from opposition MPs and shouts of “resignation,” in a rare chaotic scene in the French Parliament.
The atmosphere was tense outside parliament as heavily armed guards and riot police ringed the neighbourhoods around the National Assembly.
The Senate adopted the bill in a 193-114 vote, a tally that was largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament favours raising the retirement age.
Macron’s alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to count on conservative lawmakers to pass the bill.
Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed and conservatives are divided, which made the outcome unpredictable.