A parody photo appearing on protest signs and online in France shows the president Emmanuel Macron sitting on piles of garbage. The image refers to the garbage not being collected with sanitation workers on strike, but also what many French people think of their leader.

Macron, 45, had hoped his push to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 would cement his legacy as the president who transformed France’s economy for the 21st century. Instead, he finds his leadership contested, both in parliament and on the streets of major cities.

His brazen move to force through a pension reform bill without a vote has angered the political opposition and could hamper his government’s ability to pass legislation in the remaining four years of his term.

Demonstrators held up the mock image at protests after Macron chose at the last minute on Thursday to invoke the government’s constitutional power to pass the bill without a vote in the National Assembly. He has remained silent on the subject ever since.

Since becoming president in 2017, Macron has often been accused of arrogance and being out of touch. Perceived as “the president of the rich”, he sparked outrage by telling an unemployed man he only had to “cross the street” to find work and by suggesting that some French workers were “lazy”.

Now Macron’s government has alienated citizens “for a long time” to get by with the help of the special authority it has, under Article 49(3) of the French constitution, to introduce a generally unpopular change, said Brice Teinturier, deputy director general of the Ipsos polling institute.

The only winners of the situation are far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party, “which continues its strategy of both ‘becoming respectable’ and opposing Macron, and France’s unions,” Teinturier said. Le Pen was runner-up to Macron in the country’s last two presidential elections.

As the piles of garbage grow larger and the smell from them worsens, many people in Paris blame Macron, not the striking workers.

Macron repeatedly said he was convinced the French pension system needed to change to keep it funded. He says other proposed options, such as increasing the already heavy tax burden, would drive away investment and that cutting pensions for current retirees was not a realistic option.

Public displays of displeasure could weigh heavily on his future decisions. The spontaneous, sometimes violent protests that erupted in Paris and across the country in recent days have been contrasted with the largely peaceful demonstrations and strikes previously organized by France’s major unions.

Macron’s re-election to a second term last April strengthened his position as a senior player in Europe. He campaigned on a pro-business agenda and promised to tackle the pension issue, saying the French must “work longer.”

In June, Macron’s centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority, although it still holds more seats than other political parties. He said at the time that his government wanted to “legislate in a different way”, based on compromises with a range of political groups.

Since then, conservative lawmakers have agreed to support some bills that fit their own policies. But tensions over the pension plan and a widespread lack of trust among the ideologically diverse parties could put an end to attempts to seek compromises.

Macron’s political opponents in the National Assembly submitted two motions of no confidence against Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government on Friday. Government officials hope to survive a vote on the motions set for Monday because the opposition is divided, and many Republicans are not expected to support it.

If a motion passes, however, it would be a major blow to Macron: the pension proposal would be rejected and his cabinet would have to resign. In that case, the president would have to appoint a new cabinet and find his ability to get legislation passed weakened.

But Macron would retain significant powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defence. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he can make decisions about France’s support for Ukraine and other global issues without parliamentary approval.

France’s strong presidential powers are a legacy of General Charles de Gaulle’s desire to have a stable political system for the Fifth Republic he established in 1958.

The prime minister’s future looks less certain. If the no-confidence motions fail, Macron could adopt the higher retirement age but try to appease his critics with a government reshuffle. But Borne has given no indication of backing down.

“I am convinced that we will build the good solutions that our country needs by continuing to seek compromises with unions and employers’ organizations,” she said Thursday on French TV network TF1. “There are many topics that we deal with. must continue to work in the Riksdag.”

Macron plans to propose new measures to bring France’s unemployment rate down to 5%, from 7.2% now, by the end of his second and final term.

Another option in the hands of the president is to dissolve the National Assembly and call early parliamentary elections.

That scenario seems unlikely at present, as the unpopularity of the pension plan means Macron’s alliance is unlikely to secure a majority of seats. And if another party won, he would have to appoint a prime minister from the majority faction, giving the government the power to implement policies that diverge from the president’s priorities.

Mathilde Panot, a lawmaker from the leftist Nupes coalition, said with sarcasm on Thursday that it was a “very good” idea for Macron to dissolve the assembly and trigger an election.

“I think it would be a good time for the country to confirm that yes, they want the retirement age to be lowered to 60,” Panot said. “Nupes are always available to rule.”

Le Pen said she would also welcome a “dissolution”.