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French elections: Far-right attains historic 34% as France enters uncharted territory

The French far-right has secured a historic 34% share of the vote in the first round of snap legislative elections, with the left coalition a somewhat distant second

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2024

“Two paths are opening up […]: an alliance of evil with the Front Populaire assembled behind Jean-Luc Melenchon, which would drive the country into mayhem, insurrection and ruin,” Bardella said.
“Two paths are opening up […]: an alliance of evil with the Front Populaire assembled behind Jean-Luc Melenchon, which would drive the country into mayhem, insurrection and ruin,” Bardella said.

by Theo Bourgery-Gonse

The French far-right has secured a historic 34% share of the vote in the first round of snap legislative elections, with the left coalition a somewhat distant second and Macron’s centrist party roundly defeated into third place.

First exit polls gave the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) 34% of the popular vote, followed by the left coalition ‘Front Populaire’ at 28.1%. Macron’s Ensemble coalition scored 20.3% and the conservative Les Republicans came in fourth with 10.3%.

The RN’s historic high came amid surging voter turnout, with an estimated 67% of registered voters having cast a vote – up 30% on the 2022 legislative elections, and marking a 35-year high.

Marine Le Pen, the RN’s historic figure and former party president until she took over the presidency of the parliamentary group, announced she was already re-elected in the first round of voting, securing over 50% of the vote share, and at least 25% of the registered vote.

RN’s current President Jordan Bardella and the face of the far-right in this three-week long campaign, the shortest in modern political history, told the press he was ready to take on the role of prime minister.

“Two paths are opening up […]: an alliance of evil with the Front Populaire assembled behind Jean-Luc Melenchon, which would drive the country into mayhem, insurrection and ruin,” Bardella said.

Or, he said, “a National Union alliance,” deemed the “only patriotic bulwark” and which brings together the far-right and far-right leaning conservatives.

With such numbers, it is possible – though far from certain – that the RN could secure an absolute majority in the National Assembly following the second round of elections next Sunday (7 July).

According to initial estimates, the RN could have anywhere between 260 and 310 seats – though such numbers must be handled with great care. 289 seats are required for an absolute majority.

Unlike elections in the past where the second round has often seen a face-off between the two top candidates, such high participation rates, coupled with the split of the political spectrum into three distinct blocks – the left, the centre and the right – means there are anywhere between 285 and 315 constituencies where three candidates have made it to the second round.

Reactions and second-round strategies

How this translates into seats is still hard to predict – and all eyes will be on the decision of candidates having arrived in third place to contest or to unite behind one of the remaining two candidates.

Far-left La France Insoumise (LFI), the largest subgroup of the left-wing coalition, quickly announced they would withdraw their candidate “in all circumstances” if they arrived behind centrist and far-right counterparts in an effort to cordon off the RN, LFI’s top chief Jean-Luc Melenchon said.

All other leaders from the left coalition have said precisely the same thing in effort to enforce a cordon sanitaire wherever possible.

Disagreements are however more visible within Presidential troops.

“Faced with the imminent threat of an absolute majority for the RN, everything will come down to the 250 three-way elections [next] Sunday. We must do everything we can to beat the RN candidate who comes first when [Macron’s] Ensemble candidate comes third,” leading Macron MEP Pascal Canfin posted on X.

This means centrist candidates placing third should leave the race in all circumstances, even when a far-left La France Insoumise is up front.

This is a different take from Emmanuel Macron, who pitched his campaign against both the far-right and the far-left, equating their level of ‘danger’ – a position objected to by many within his own ranks.

In a statement released minutes after the vote, Macron said it was “time for a large and clear gathering of democratic and republican forces,” remaining blurry over whether that included the far-left.

The conservatives, which experienced a schism within their own ranks when the party president announced unilaterally days after snap elections were called he would strike a coalition deal with the far right, have said they would not give voting instructions for the second round.

However, their leading MEP Francois-Xavier Bellamy, who was elected as vice president of the right European People’s Party (EPP) recently, said the key risk for France was “the far-left”. Earlier in the campaign, he had announced that where there was a face off between the RN and the Front Populaire, he would “of course” call to vote for the far right.

*first published in: Εuractiv.com

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