Home News French election deadlocked, left gains, far right loses

French election deadlocked, left gains, far right loses

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France held early legislative elections on Sunday. Although the three major political factions of the left, center and right won a large number of votes, none of them reached an absolute majority, and therefore faced a hung parliament and serious political uncertainty.

Predictions based on preliminary results upended widespread predictions of a landslide victory for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Rally, which dominated the first round of voting a week ago. Instead, the leftist New Popular Front appeared to be in the lead, with between 172 and 208 seats, according to several pollsters.

Projections put President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ennahda party in second place with 150 to 174 seats, a month after Macron called the election and plunged the country into chaos. It is followed by the National Rally with 113 to 152 seats.

The details of the result may still change, but it was clear that the race between the centre and the left to form a “Republican front” to face the National Rally in the second round of voting had largely succeeded. Candidates across France withdrew from the three-way race and called for unity against Ms Le Pen’s party.

“It is now the president’s duty to call on the new Popular Front to govern the country,” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader and charismatic but polarizing face of the left-wing coalition. “We are ready.”

But with less than three weeks until the start of the Paris Olympics, France looks ungovernable. The left has risen, with the National Rally adding dozens of seats in the National Assembly, while Macron’s party has suffered a crushing defeat, with the 250 seats held by his party and its allies in the National Assembly reduced by more than a third.

The result is that the lower house of parliament, which holds most legislative power, is so deeply divided that a governing coalition seems impossible to form immediately, with Macron’s centrists caught between far-right and far-left groups that hate each other and Macron.

Jordan Bardella, a Le Pen protégé who led the National Rally to victory in last month’s European Parliament elections and the first round of legislative votes, hailed it as the “most important breakthrough in the party’s history.” He called the deals that have prevented the party from reaching an outright majority a “dishonorable alliance” and said Macron had plunged France into “uncertainty and instability.”

Despite winning fewer seats than expected, the National Rally now holds a firm footing in French politics, dispelling the notion built into the postwar political landscape that the far right’s history of overt racism and anti-Semitism makes it unworthy of power.

Ms Le Pen has disavowed that past. But even in renamed form, the party’s core message remains that immigrants undermine French national identity and that tighter border controls and stricter regulation are needed to stop them from entering France or benefiting from the country’s social safety net.

France rejected the idea but voted overwhelmingly for change. It does not want the same thing to happen again. It sends a pointed message to the pro-business elite around Macron, who has a limited term and must leave office in 2027.

“France is more divided than ever,” said Alain Duhamel, a prominent political scientist and author. “We have learned that it was a very bad idea for Mr Macron to dissolve parliament and call elections.”

Chronic French political instability threatens to exacerbate international instability as President Joe Biden struggles to counter the “America First” nationalist rhetoric of former President Donald Trump. Ms. Le Pen, who has close ties to Russia, has sought to recast herself as a cautious supporter of Ukraine, but Moscow will no doubt welcome the National Rally’s growing influence.

The New Popular Front campaigned on a platform to raise France’s minimum monthly wage, lower the statutory retirement age from 64 to 60, reintroduce a wealth tax and freeze energy and gas prices. Rather than slashing immigration, as the National Rally had promised, the New Popular Front said it would make the asylum process more relaxed and seamless.

The platform said the alliance supports Ukraine’s resistance to Russia and its fight for freedom, and called on Ukrainian President Vladimir Putin to “be held accountable for his crimes before international justice.”

It is unclear exactly how the coalition’s economic plans will be funded as France faces a ballooning budget deficit, and how pro-immigrant policies will be implemented in a country where the issue of immigration is perhaps most sensitive.

The New Popular Front, which is clearly divided between moderate socialists and the far left, received broad support from young people in the first round of voting and gained good support in constituencies with large concentrations of North African immigrants around major cities such as Paris.

Mr. Mélenchon’s ardent pro-Palestinian stance was popular in those quarters, though he sparked outrage by appearing to cross the line into anti-Semitism. He accused the speaker of the National Assembly, Yaël Braun-Pivet, who is Jewish, of “camping in Tel Aviv and encouraging the Holocaust.” “Friends of unconditional support for the Holocaust have joined together,” he said of a mass demonstration against anti-Semitism in November.

Macron has not been forced to call an early election, but he is willing to gamble that he can still be a unifying force against extremism. In fact, after seven years in office, he has lost the appeal of doing so. After coming to power in 2017, he declared that left and right were outdated labels. Now they are.

Now, Macron appears to have two options, short of resigning, which he has vowed he would not consider.

The first was to try to build a broad coalition that could extend from the left to the remaining moderate de Gaulle conservatives, some of whom had broken a taboo during the campaign by aligning themselves with the National Rally.

That seems unlikely. Mr Macron has made no secret of his intense dislike for Mr Mélenchon; the feeling is mutual.

A second, less ambitious option would be for Macron to try to form some kind of caretaker government to handle current affairs.

For example, Macron might ask former prime ministers from centrist parties (including Macron’s own party, the Socialists and the center-right Republicans) to suggest forming a government of technocrats or prominent figures to handle a limited agenda next year.

According to the constitution, there must be at least a year between the next parliamentary elections.

Compared to being forced to “cohabit” with Badella as prime minister, Macron may still be able to exert considerable influence, that is, international and military affairs, the traditional purview of the president of the Fifth Republic.

He is a staunch supporter of the European Union, which the National Rally wants to weaken. He will no doubt continue to push for a “European power” with a more integrated military, defense industry and technological research, but his influence may be diminished by weakness at home.

Macron, who once considered reconciliation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, now publicly supports Ukraine’s fight for freedom. With just four months until the U.S. presidential election, doubts are growing about the West’s willingness to continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and money.

Russia obviously believes that France will waver. “The French people are seeking a sovereign foreign policy in line with their national interests, free from dictates from Washington and Brussels,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement a few days ago. “French officials cannot ignore these profound changes in the attitudes of the vast majority of citizens.”

In short, France faces great uncertainty, both internally and externally. It seems that the possibility of a constitutional crisis cannot be ruled out in the coming months. Centrist Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who resigned on Sunday, declared that “tonight, with our resolve and our values, the absolute majority will not be controlled by extremists.”

He claimed a small victory, but the Centre certainly did not have that much of a majority.

Unlike many other European countries, such as Belgium, Italy and Germany, France has no tradition of forming complex coalition governments between parties with different views through months of negotiations, nor of establishing caretaker coalitions. In fact, Charles de Gaulle created the Fifth Republic in 1958 to end the parliamentary turmoil and short-lived governments of the Fourth Republic.

One theory surrounding Macron’s mysterious decision to call an election is that if the National Rally comes to power and Bardella becomes prime minister, the far-right party’s halo will fade before the 2027 presidential election.

It’s another gamble, the idea being that it’s easier to criticize the fringe than to make tough government decisions. Macron doesn’t want to hand over the keys to the Elysee Palace, seat of the presidency, to Le Pen after three years.

In this sense, the election results could confuse Macron and benefit Le Pen, whose party has proven increasingly popular without the burden of governing. On the other hand, the deep-seated resistance of the French people to the idea of ​​a power shift to the far right was once again on display.

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