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French elections: The far right leads in the first round, in a blow to Macron, according to expectations

French elections: The far right leads in the first round, in a blow to Macron, according to expectations



CNN

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party has made progress in the first round of the French presidential election. France Initial projections showed that Sunday’s parliamentary elections would bring her closer to power than ever before.

After an unusually high turnout, the National Front bloc topped with 34% of the vote, while the leftist New Popular Front coalition came in second place with 28.1%, and President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition fell to third place with 20.3%, according to preliminary estimates by the Institute. Ipsos.

While the National Rally appears to be on track to win the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, it may not get the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, suggesting that France may be heading toward a hung parliament and greater 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.

The election, called by Macron after his party suffered a defeat to the National Front in European Parliament elections earlier this month, could leave him to 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 wiping out the Macronite bloc,” she told a cheering crowd, adding: “Nothing has been won – and the second round will take place.” “decisive.”

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

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

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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.

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 haggling will now follow as centrist and left-wing parties decide whether or not to stand down in individual seats to prevent the nationalist and anti-immigration RN – long a pariah in French politics – from winning a majority.

When the National Rally — under its former name, the National Front — performed strongly in the first round of votes in the past, left-wing and centrist parties have previously united to prevent them from taking office, under a principle known as “encirclement.”

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, turning him in. Landslide in the second round.

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

“Our instructions are clear – not one more vote, not one more seat for the National Rally,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France Unbowed – the NFP’s largest party – told supporters on Sunday.

Dimitar Delkov/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the far right after the results of the first round of parliamentary elections are announced, at Place de la République in Paris on June 30, 2024.

“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.

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Marine Tondillier, leader of the Green Party – a more moderate part of the National Labor Party – made a personal call for Macron to step down in certain seats to deprive the National Front of a majority.

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

Macron’s allies in the Rally party also called on their supporters to prevent the far right from taking power, but 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 Unbowed candidates, with whom we disagree on fundamental principles,” said former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, another Macron ally.

It is not clear whether tactical voting could prevent the National Front from winning a majority. In Sunday’s vote, the National Front won support in places that would have been unimaginable until recently. In the 20th electoral district of the North Province, an industrial heartland, Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel was defeated in the first round by the National Front candidate, who had no prior political experience. The Communists had 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 – the first in France since 1997 – came as a surprise to the country and even his closest allies. Sunday’s vote was held three years earlier than necessary and just three weeks after Macron’s Ennahda party was defeated by the National Front in the 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 this is not the case, things may stop. 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 lighting up lights as they take part in a march after the results of the first round of the French parliamentary elections were announced, at the Place de la Republique 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 fiscal 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 Conservative Party’s spending plans are implemented, they will send France’s deficit soaring – a prospect that has alarmed bond markets and prompted warnings of a “Liz Truss-style fiscal crisis,” referring to Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister.

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.

“In front of the national assembly, the time has come for a broad gathering, clearly democratic and Republican, for the second round,” he said.