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French elections: Major surprise as left coalition on course to beat far right

Defying all expectations, the loose left coalition Nouveau Front Populaire came out on top of the second and final round of France’s snap elections

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2024

But the Nouveau Front Populaire is also well short of the 289-seat absolute majority, which means negotiations will now get underway to determine which parliamentary coalition could emerge.
But the Nouveau Front Populaire is also well short of the 289-seat absolute majority, which means negotiations will now get underway to determine which parliamentary coalition could emerge.

by Theo Bourgery-Gonse

Defying all expectations, the loose left coalition Nouveau Front Populaire came out on top of the second and final round of France’s snap elections on Sunday (7 July), well ahead of the far-right Rassemblement national (RN) but without an absolute majority, according to exit polls.

The polls put NFP, which had been hastily put together only weeks before the first election round on 30 June, in pole position with between 172 and 192 seats, some 40 seats ahead of Marine Le Pen’s RN, who had largely been expected to post a landslide victory.

President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble coalition is losing some steam, going down to 150-170 seats from 250 it had before Macron unexpectedly called the elections, following the RN’s convincing victory in the European elections on 9 June.

Meanwhile, the conservative Les Republicains, who imploded a few weeks ago after their president, Eric Ciotti, announced he would rally behind the RN ahead of the vote, secured a steady 57-67 seats.

The result means that none of the three biggest groups – which disagree on almost everything – has enough seats to dominate parliament and passing any legislation will require that at least two of them vote together.

The election in the EU’s second-biggest economy saw record participation rates, at 67% this Sunday – a score almost identical to the first round, and a 30-year high for legislative elections.

The RN failed to break through the cordon sanitaire, which seems to have held efficiently between the first and second election rounds thanks to tactical voting: With over 200 pro-Macron and left-wing candidates making it through to the election’s second round, those who came third withdrew, so anti-RN votes could rally behind one single contender.

This means the possibility of the RN entering government in the near future is all but dead – though they have gained another possible 50 to 70 seats, adding to the 88 they won in 2022.

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But the Nouveau Front Populaire is also well short of the 289-seat absolute majority, which means negotiations will now get underway to determine which parliamentary coalition could emerge.

Calls are growing to find a ‘centre’ coalition – including the greens, the socialists, Ensemble, and LR, but without the RN and LFI. Former prime minister Edouard Philippe – president of the liberal Horizons party – said on Sunday that only such an alliance would give “the country the stability it deserves”.

“The absence of any [clear] majority and a government would expose France to insurmountable dangers. The credibility of our country could be affected, and its credit rating ruined,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced on Sunday he would hand in his resignation to the president the next morning, as per the tradition.

Greens’ chief Marine Tondelier said earlier this week she was favourable to a broad coalition with socialists and other, more centrist figures. She also insisted – along with her socialist counterparts – that Jean-Luc Melenchon should never become prime minister.

The left-wing La France insoumise (LFI) figurehead has drawn severe criticism both from political opponents and his own camp – and many fear his very presence could kill any hopes of a stable alliance. Melenchon, however, seemed unfazed on Sunday evening and said he should lead the new government.

“The president has the power and the duty to call on the Nouveau Front Populaire to govern,” he said in a speech minutes after the vote.

“We refuse to enter into any [coalition] negotiations,” Melenchon said, speaking in the name of his own party, rather than the NFP as a whole: “No subterfuge, arrangement or [political] combination would be acceptable”.

Meanwhile, the far-right has denied the outcome was a failure, blaming “counternatural political alliances,” allegedly between Macron’s camp and the left, RN’s top man Jordan Bardella said.

Such agreements – which were never proven to exist per se, but refer to both blocks’ tactical withdrawals after the first round to best push back the far right – “are throwing France into the arms of the far-left and Melenchon,” he explained.

On 9 June, Macron announced he would dissolve the National Assembly by calling snap legislative elections – a constitutional prerogative only he can use – after his Ensemble centrist coalition received a trouncing from the far-right RN in the European elections.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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