France votes with centrists striving to prevent far-right from gaining power

France votes with centrists striving to prevent far-right from gaining power

France is navigating uncharted political waters after President Emmanuel Macron’s gamble on snap elections backfired, leading to a significant surge for the far-right National Rally (RN) party in the first round of parliamentary polls. Led by Marine Le Pen and her protégé, Jordan Bardella, the RN secured 33% of the vote, a substantial increase from the 18.9% they garnered in the 2022 elections. This puts them in a strong position to claim the largest share of the 577-seat lower house.

If the RN maintains its lead in the second round of voting on July 7, France could see its first far-right prime minister since World War II. Macron’s centrist Ensemble coalition, on the other hand, trailed with 20.3% of the vote, a significant drop from their 26% share in 2022. Projections suggest the RN could win around 230 seats, falling short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority. Macron’s coalition is expected to secure between 70 and 100 seats, while the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) could take about 165 seats.

In response, leaders of left and centrist parties are scrambling to form a strategic alliance to block the RN. Failure to do so could force Macron into a rare “cohabitation” arrangement, where the president and prime minister come from different political parties, potentially diminishing his powers and reversing his policies on issues like energy, the European Union, and support for Ukraine.

Left and centrist blocs are urgently realigning to prevent an RN victory in the run-off. Coalition leaders, including Macron, have urged voters not to support the RN and have called for an alliance between traditionally opposing blocs, a tactic known as the “cordon sanitaire.” This strategy has been used in several EU countries to keep extreme parties out of government.

However, forming such an alliance is easier said than done. The NFP, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, has promised to withdraw any candidates who placed third in the first round to avoid splitting the vote. Centrist parties, however, are more hesitant to join forces with Melenchon’s left coalition, viewing him as a polarizing figure.

Despite these challenges, some candidates from Macron’s Ensemble coalition have already stepped down to support the broader anti-RN effort. For instance, Albane Branlant, who competed in the northern Somme department, announced her withdrawal, emphasizing the importance of unity against the RN.

Meanwhile, the RN is preparing for the second round with a more conciliatory tone. Bardella, who previously stated he would not lead a government without an absolute majority, now aims to be a prime minister for all French people, respecting the opposition and national unity. The RN has softened its rhetoric on race and immigration but remains a controversial force in mainstream French politics.

Marine Le Pen, who secured re-election in her northern Pas-de-Calais district, is rallying voters online, urging them to mobilize for the second round. Thousands of protesters, dismayed by the prospect of a far-right government, clashed with police in Paris, a situation that RN leaders are using to their advantage by portraying themselves as the party of order.

The rise of the far right in France is part of a broader populist wave sweeping Europe. Dissatisfaction with Macron’s government and a cost-of-living crisis have driven many voters towards parties like the RN, which promise change. Analyst Jean Yves Camus of the Jean Jaures Foundation noted that the high turnout in Sunday’s election was both a rejection of Macron and an embrace of the far right, which opposes immigration, the EU, and military support for Ukraine.

The first round of voting has left France with two likely scenarios: the RN and its allies could secure a working majority in parliament, or they could be blocked by a coalition of left and centrist parties. Both outcomes carry significant implications for France’s domestic and international policies.

A far-right government would be a triumph for populist parties across Europe and could lead to significant changes in France’s stance on immigration, the EU, and its support for Ukraine. Conversely, a hung parliament could result in political paralysis, with parties forming ad hoc alliances to pass legislation, potentially deepening voter disillusionment.

Macron’s decision to call snap elections has been widely criticized, even within his own camp, for opening the door to the far right. If the RN forms a government, it plans to dismantle many of Macron’s key policies, including pension reform and military support for Ukraine. The RN also aims to boost police powers and restrict the rights of dual citizens in certain jobs.

Regardless of the outcome, the RN is likely to claim a victory as the single largest party, emboldening the far right and setting the stage for future political battles. An Ipsos poll showed substantial support for the RN among voters of all ages, particularly among those who identify as “disadvantaged.”

The second round of voting on July 7 will be crucial in determining France’s political future. Whether the RN secures a majority or is blocked by a coalition of left and centrist parties, the election has already marked a significant shift in the country’s political landscape.

Source: AP, Reuters

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