Saturday, July 20, 2024

France: Far-right leads in first round of parliamentary elections under Macron


Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party led in the first round of France Sunday’s parliamentary elections bring the gates of power closer than ever.

After an unusually high turnout, the RN bloc won 33.15% of the vote, while the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition came in second with 27.99% and President Emmanuel Macron’s Group coalition slipped to a dismal third with 20.76%. The results were released by the Home Ministry on Monday.

Although the RN appears on track to win more seats in the National Assembly, it could fall short of the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, saying France is heading for a hung parliament and further political uncertainty.

After next Sunday’s second round of voting, projections show the RN will win between 230 and 280 seats in the 577-seat lower house – a stunning rise from its tally of 88 in the outgoing parliament. The NFP was forecast to gain 125 to 165 seats, with the Group trailing between 70 and 100 seats.

The election, called by Macron after his party was badly beaten by the RN in European Parliament elections earlier this month, could leave him to see out the remainder of his three-year presidency in an awkward partnership with a prime minister from the opposition.

The RN electoral party in the northern city of Henin, Beaumont, erupted in celebration when the results were announced – but Marine Le Pen stressed the importance of voting next Sunday.

“Democracy has spoken, the French people have put the National Rally and its allies first – and practically destroyed the Macronist camp,” he told a jubilant crowd: “Nothing has won – there will be a second round. Decisive.”

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

“Next Sunday’s vote will be one of the most decisive in the entire history of the Fifth Republic,” Bartella said.

In elegant speeches before the first round, Bardella said he would refuse to form a minority government in which the RN would need the votes of allies to pass laws. If the RN falls short of an absolute majority and Bardella is true to his word, Macron will have to look for a prime minister from the hard left or somewhere else to form a technical government.

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Following news of the results Sunday night, far-right anti-rights protests erupted in Paris and Lyon, with about 5,500 people gathering in the capital’s Place de la République, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported.

Reuters later released a video of demonstrators setting off fireworks as they marched through Paris. BFMTV reported that 200 police were deployed in Lyon to deal with the protests.

Yves Herman/Reuters

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

With an unprecedented number of seats going to three-way contests, a week of political bargaining will be held as centrist and left-wing parties decide whether or not to stand in individual seats to fend off nationalist and anti-immigrant opposition. The RN – long a pariah in French politics – has since won a majority.

When the RN – under its former name, the National Front – performed strongly in the first round of votes in the past, left-wing and centrist parties united under a policy known as the “Garden” before barring them from taking office. Sanitaire.”

After Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and the National Front’s decades-long leader, unexpectedly defeated Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the 2002 presidential election, the Socialists threw their weight behind center-right candidate Jacques Chirac and delivered him. A landslide in the second round run.

In an attempt to deny the RN a majority, the NFP – a left-wing coalition formed earlier this month – pledged to withdraw all candidates who came third in the first round.

“Our instruction is clear – no more a vote, no place for a national rally,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France’s Unboot, the NFP’s largest party, told supporters on Sunday.

“A long week awaits us, everyone will make his decision with conscience, this decision will determine, in the long run, the future of our country and each of our fates,” Mélenchon added.

Marine Tondilier, leader of the Green Party – the most moderate part of the NFP – made a personal appeal to Macron to stand in some seats to deny the RN a majority.

“We believe in you: If you come third in a three-way race, withdraw, and if you don’t qualify for the second round, call on your supporters to vote for a candidate who supports Republican values,” he said.

Macron’s coalition partners have also called on their supporters to prevent the far-right from taking office.

Macron’s supporter and outgoing prime minister Gabriel Atal urged voters to prevent the RN from gaining a majority, but said Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party “blocks a credible alternative” to the far-right government.

Former prime minister Edouard Philippe, another Macron ally, said: “There should be no votes for National Rally candidates, but also no votes for France Anbouw candidates, with whom we differ on fundamental principles.”

It is unclear whether tactical voting could prevent the RN from gaining a majority. In Sunday’s poll, the RN won support in places unthinkable until recently. In the Nord department’s 20th constituency, the industrial heartland, Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel was defeated in the first round by an RN candidate with no previous political experience. Since 1962, this place was under the control of the Communists.

Abdul Saboor/Reuters

Jean-Luc Mélenchon collects voting papers before voting at a polling station in Paris on June 30, 2024.

Macron’s decision to call France’s first election since 1997 took the country and his closest allies by surprise. Sunday’s vote was held three years earlier than necessary and three weeks after Macron’s Renaissance Party was defeated by the RN in European Parliament elections.

Macron has pledged to see out the remainder of his final presidential term until 2027, but he now faces the prospect of appointing a prime minister from the opposition – in a rare arrangement known as “collaboration”.

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The French government faces little trouble enacting laws when the president and the majority in parliament are from the same party. When they don’t, things can grind to a halt. While the president decides the country’s foreign, Europe and defense policy, the parliamentary majority is responsible for passing domestic laws such as pensions and taxation.

But these remittances, combined, could send France into a constitutional crisis. Bardella, for example, has ruled out sending troops to help Ukraine resist a Russian invasion — a Macron idea — saying Kiev would not allow French military equipment to be used to attack targets inside Russia. It is not clear whose will will prevail in such disputes where the line between domestic and foreign policy is blurred.

Geoffrey van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators stand on top of a monument and light a candle as they take part in a rally after the results of the first round of French parliamentary elections were announced at Place de la République in Paris on June 30, 2024.

A far-right government could spell fiscal and constitutional crisis. The RN has made lavish spending pledges at a time when France’s budget is being brutally slashed by Brussels – from rolling back Macron’s pension reforms to cutting taxes on fuel, gas and electricity.

With Europe’s biggest deficits, France may need to undergo a period of austerity to avoid falling foul of the European Commission’s new fiscal rules. But, if implemented, the RN’s spending plans could increase France’s deficit – which has alerted bond markets and led to warnings of a “Lis Truss-style financial crisis”.

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

“In the face of the national rally, the time has come for a broad, clear Democratic and Republican rally for the runoff,” he said.

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

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