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 is leading with 34% of the vote, while the left-wing New Popular Front coalition is second with 28.1% and President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition has dropped to third with 20.3%, according to exit polls. 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 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.

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 in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont erupted in celebration as the results were announced, but Marine Le Pen was quick to stress that next Sunday’s elections 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 National Front headquarters in Paris, Jordan Bardella, the party’s 28-year-old leader who would 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 before 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 for a far-left prime minister, or elsewhere entirely, to form a technocratic government.

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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—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, handing him a landslide in the second round.

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

“We have a long week ahead of us, and each person will make their own decision based on their conscience, and this decision will determine, in the long run, the future of our country and the fate of each one of us,” Mélenchon added.

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Marine Tondelaer, leader of the Greens – a more moderate part of the National Front for Change – made a personal appeal to Macron to give up some seats to deprive the National Rally 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.

Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, another Macron ally, said: “Votes should not be cast for the National Rally candidates, but also for the candidates of unbending France, with whom we disagree on basic principles.”

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 voting 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 — came as a surprise to the country and even to 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 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 may overlap, which could push France into a constitutional crisis. For example, Bardella 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 might prevail in such conflicts, as 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 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 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 gather in 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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