Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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



Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party has made progress in the first round of the French presidential election. France Initial expectations showed that the Justice and Development Party will hold early parliamentary elections on Sunday, which brings it closer to the gates of 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 party 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 could be heading toward a hung parliament and more 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.

The election, called by Macron after his party suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the National Rally in European Parliament elections earlier this month, could see him serve out 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 headquarters in Paris, Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old party 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 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.

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 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 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, handing him a landslide in the second round.

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 – no more vote, no more seat for the National Rally,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Insurgent France party – the largest party in the Free France 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 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 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 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 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.”

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 — 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 little trouble passing laws when the president and the majority in parliament belong to the same party. When they don’t, things can grind to a halt. 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 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 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 may brutally cut France’s budget.

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 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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