French election: Far-right leads in first round in blow to Macron, forecast



CNN

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen came first in the first round of the 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 Rally bloc leads with 34% of the vote, while the leftist New Popular Front coalition ranks second with 28.1%, and President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition falls to third place with 20.3%, according to opinion poll results. Preliminary estimates by 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.

Expectations indicate that after the second round of voting next Sunday, the National Rally Party will win between 230 and 280 seats in the 577-seat House of Representatives – a staggering increase compared to the 88 seats it won in the outgoing Parliament. The National Front is expected to get between 125 and 165 seats, while Ensemble lags behind with between 70 and 100 seats.

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. .

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 will be decisive.

“Democracy has spoken, and the French people have put the National Rally and its allies first – and have practically wiped out the Macronist bloc,” she told a cheering crowd, adding: “Nothing has been won – and the second round will be decisive.”

In a speech at the party’s headquarters in Paris, Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old party leader who will become prime minister in the future, 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 ahead of the first round, Bardella said he would reject a minority government, where the FN would need the votes of allies to pass laws. If the FN fails to secure an absolute majority and Bardella stays true to his word, Macron may then have to look to a hard-left prime minister, or elsewhere entirely, to form a government of technocrats.

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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 will decide whether or not to stand down in individual seats to block the nationalist and anti-immigration National Front – which has been a pariah for some time. Long in French politics – of winning a majority.

When the National Rally – under its previous name, the National Front – had a strong performance in the first round of voting in the past, the previously left-wing and centrist parties 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 deny the National Front a majority, the National Front — the left-wing 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.

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Demonstrators take part in a march against the far right after the results of the first round of parliamentary elections were announced, in 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 Tondellier, leader of the Green Party — a more moderate part of the National Workers’ Party — made a personal appeal to Macron to step down in certain seats to deprive the National Front 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 have also called on their supporters to prevent the far right from taking power, but have warned against giving 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.

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.”

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 voting 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 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 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 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 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 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.

“Before the national rally, it is time for a broad rally, clear Democrats and Republicans, for the second round,” he said.

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