France: The far right leads in the first round of parliamentary elections, in a blow to Macron



CNN

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen topped the first round of elections France Parliamentary elections are on Sunday, bringing them closer to the gates of power than ever before.

After an unusually high turnout, the National Rally bloc received 33.15% of the votes, 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 Reuters. . The final results were published by the Interior Ministry on Monday.

While the National Front appears on track to win the most seats in the National Assembly, it may fall short of the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, suggesting that France may be heading toward a hung parliament and more political uncertainty.

After the second round of voting on Sunday, the National Rally is forecast to win between 230 and 280 seats in the 577-seat lower house – a stunning increase from the 88 it won in the outgoing parliament. The National Front is forecast to win between 125 and 165 seats, while Ensemble is 70 to 100 seats behind.

A total of 76 candidates were elected to the French parliament in the first round of voting, including 39 from the National Front party, 32 from the National Front party and two from Macron’s coalition, according to results published on Monday.

These elections, called by Macron after his party suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the National Rally in the European Parliament elections earlier this month, may result in him having to complete the remaining three years of his presidential term in an awkward partnership with a prime minister from an opposition party. .

The National Front party erupted in celebration in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont as the results were announced, but Marine Le Pen was quick to stress that Sunday’s election would be decisive.

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

In a speech at the National Front’s 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.

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In upbeat speeches before the first round, Bardella said he would reject a minority government, as the National Front would require the votes of allies to pass laws. If the National Front fails to achieve an absolute majority and Bardella remains true to his word, Macron may then have to look for a prime minister from the hard left, or somewhere else entirely to form a technocratic government.

Following news of the results on Sunday evening, anti-far-right protests broke out in Paris and Lyon, with about 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.

Yves Hermann/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—Marine’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, giving 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 – not one extra vote, not one extra seat for the National Rally,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France Unbowed – the NFP’s largest party – told supporters on Sunday.

“We have a long week ahead of us, and everyone will make their 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,” Mélenchon added.

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 also called on their supporters to prevent the far right from taking power, but they warned against giving their votes to the controversial man Mélenchon.

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

Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, another Macron ally, said: “Votes should be cast not only for National Rally candidates, but also for non-submissive French candidates, with whom we disagree on basic principles.”

But it’s unclear whether tactical voting can prevent the National Rally from winning a majority. In Sunday’s vote, the National Rally won support in places that would have been 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 National Rally candidate with no previous political experience. The Communists have held the 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 – a rare arrangement known as “cohabitation”.

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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 who would prevail in such disputes, where the line between domestic and foreign policy is often blurred.

Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

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

A far-right government could trigger a financial and constitutional crisis. The National Front has made generous spending pledges — from rolling back Macron’s pension reforms to cutting taxes on fuel, gas and electricity — at a time when Brussels could slash France’s budget savagely.

With one of the highest deficits 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, France’s deficit could soar – a prospect that has alarmed bond markets and prompted warnings of a Truss-style financial crisis.

In a brief statement on Sunday evening, Macron said the high turnout showed “the desire of French voters to clarify the political situation” and called on his supporters to rally for the second round.

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

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the National Rally Party’s vote share.

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