July 17, 2024

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Far-right leads first round of French parliamentary elections in blow to Macron

Far-right leads first round of French parliamentary elections in blow to Macron



CNN

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen won the first round of the elections. France Türkiye is preparing to hold parliamentary elections on Sunday, bringing it closer to the gates of power than ever before.

After an unusually high turnout, the National Rally bloc received 35.15% of the vote, while the leftist New Popular Front coalition came in second place with 27.99%, and President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition fell to a dismal third with 20.76%, according to the final results. The results were published by the Interior Ministry on Monday.

While the National Front appears to be on track to win the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, it may not be able to secure the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, suggesting that France may be heading towards a hung parliament and greater political uncertainty.

Expectations indicate that after the second round of voting next Sunday, the National Front will win between 230 and 280 seats in the 577-seat House of Representatives – a staggering increase compared to its 88 seats in the outgoing Parliament. The National League was expected to gain between 125 and 165 seats, with the group falling by between 70 and 100 seats.

The election, called by Macron after his party suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the National Rally in European Parliament elections earlier this month, could see him serve out the remaining three years of his presidential term in an awkward partnership with a prime minister from an opposition party.

National Front party celebrations erupted in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont when the results were announced – but Marine Le Pen was quick to stress that next Sunday’s vote would be decisive.

“Democracy has spoken, and the French people have put the National Rally and its allies first – practically erasing Macron’s bloc,” she told a crowd celebrating her birthday, adding: “Nothing has been won – and the second round will be decisive.”

In a speech at the National Front headquarters in Paris, Jordan Bardella, the party’s 28-year-old leader, echoed Le Pen’s message.

“The vote that will take place next Sunday is one of the most decisive elections in the entire history of the Fifth Republic,” Bardella said.

In upbeat speeches ahead of the first round, Bardella said he would reject a minority government, as the National Rally would need the votes of allies to pass laws. If the National Rally fails to secure an absolute majority and Bardella stays true to his word, Macron may then have to look to a far-left prime minister, or elsewhere entirely, to form a technocratic government.

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Following news of the results on Sunday evening, anti-far-right protests erupted in Paris and Lyon, with some 5,500 people gathering in the capital’s Place de la République, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

Reuters news agency later published a video clip showing demonstrators setting off fireworks as they marched in Paris. BFM TV reported that 200 police were deployed in Lyon to deal with the protests.

Eve Herman/Reuters

Marine Le Pen casts her vote at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, June 30, 2024.

With an unprecedented number of seats going to a three-way runoff, a week of political negotiations will now begin, as centrist and left-wing parties decide whether or not to step aside for individual seats to prevent the nationalist, anti-immigration National Front — long a pariah in French politics — from winning a majority.

When the National Rally — formerly the National Front — has done strongly in the first round of voting in the past, left-wing and centrist parties have united to prevent it from taking power, under a principle known as the “sanitary barrier.”

After Jean-Marie Le Pen—Marin’s father and leader of the National Front for decades—unexpectedly defeated Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the 2002 presidential election, the Socialists threw their weight behind center-right candidate Jacques Chirac, handing him a landslide victory in the second round of the election.

In an attempt to deprive the National Rally of its majority, the National Progressive Front – a leftist coalition formed earlier this month – has promised to withdraw all of its candidates who came in third in the first round.

“Our instructions are clear – no more vote, no more seat for the National Rally,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Insurgent France party – the largest party in the Free France party – told supporters on Sunday.

Mélenchon added: “We have a long week ahead of us, and everyone will make his decision with conscience, and this decision will determine, in the long run, the future of our country and the destinies of each one of us.”

Marine Tondiller, leader of the Green Party – a more moderate part of the National Front for Change – made a personal appeal to Macron to step down from some seats to deprive the National Rally of a majority.

“We’re counting on you: Drop out if you finish third in a three-way race, and if you don’t qualify for the runoff, invite your supporters to vote for a candidate who supports Republican values,” she said.

Macron’s allies in the Rally party have also called on their supporters to prevent the far right from taking power, but have warned against lending their votes to the controversial Mélenchon.

Macron’s protégé and outgoing prime minister, Gabriel Attal, urged voters to prevent the National Rally from winning a majority, but said Mélenchon’s France Insoumise party was “preventing a credible alternative” to the far-right government.

“Votes should not be cast for National Rally candidates, but also for France Unchained candidates, with whom we disagree on fundamental principles,” said former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, another Macron ally.

But it is unclear whether tactical voting will be able to prevent the National Rally Party from winning a majority. In Sunday’s vote, the National Rally won support in places that were unimaginable until recently. In the 20th electoral district of the Nord department, an industrial area, Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel was defeated in the first round by a candidate from the National Rally Party who had no previous political experience. The Communists had occupied this seat since 1962.

Abdel Sabour/Reuters

Jean-Luc Mélenchon collects ballot papers before casting his vote at a polling station in Paris, June 30, 2024.

Macron’s decision to call early elections — France’s first since 1997 — has stunned the country and even his closest allies. Sunday’s vote came three years ahead of schedule and just three weeks after Macron’s Ennahda party was trounced by the National Front in European Parliament elections.

Macron has pledged to serve out the remainder of his final presidential term, which runs until 2027, but now faces the prospect of having to appoint a prime minister from an opposition party – in a rare arrangement known as “coexistence.”

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The French government has no problem passing laws when the president and the majority in parliament belong to the same party. When they don’t, things can get messy. While the president sets the country’s foreign, European and defense policy, the parliamentary majority is responsible for passing domestic laws, such as pensions and taxes.

But these powers can overlap, potentially pushing France into a constitutional crisis. For example, Bardella has ruled out sending troops to help Ukraine resist a Russian invasion—an idea floated by Macron—and said he would not allow Kiev to use French military equipment to strike targets inside Russia. It is unclear whose will would prevail in disputes like these, where the line between domestic and foreign policy is blurred.

Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters stand on the Monument to the Republic and light smoke bombs as they take part in a rally after the results of the first round of the French parliamentary elections are announced, at the Place de la République in Paris on June 30, 2024.

A far-right government could lead to a financial and constitutional crisis. The National Rally has pledged to spend heavily — from rolling back Macron’s pension reforms to cutting taxes on fuel, gas and electricity — at a time when France’s budget could be subject to savage cuts from Brussels.

With one of the highest deficit levels in the eurozone, France may need to embark on a period of austerity to avoid falling foul of the European Commission’s new fiscal rules. But if the National Front’s spending plans are implemented, it could send France’s deficit skyrocketing – a prospect that has spooked bond markets and led to warnings of a financial crisis like that of Liz Truss, referring to the prime minister. The shortest service in British history.

In a brief statement issued on Sunday evening, Macron said that the large turnout showed “the desire of French voters to clarify the political situation” and called on his supporters to gather in the second round.

“In the face of the National Rally, it is time for a broad and clearly democratic Republican Rally for the second round,” he said.