French polls: France may see its first Far-Right govt since World War II – Business Standard

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Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party leaped into a strong lead Sunday in France’s first round of parliamentary elections, bringing the party closer than ever to being able to form a government in round two and dealing a major blow to centrist President Emmanuel Macron and his risky decision to call the surprise polls.

Amid an unusually high voter turnout, the RN bloc secured 35.15 per cent of the vote, while the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition came second with 27.99 per cent and President Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance slumped to a third with just 20.76 per cent, according to the final results published by the French Interior Ministry on Monday.

How did France get here?

When Macron dissolved France’s National Assembly on June 9 after a defeat at the hands of the RN in French voting for the European Parliament, he had gambled that the party, with its anti-immigration stance and historical links to antisemitism, wouldn’t be able to repeat that success with France’s own fate in the balance.

However, things didn’t work out that way, with French polling agencies projecting that the RN and its allies secured about one-third of the national vote on Sunday. Amid these projections, Macron’s prime minister, Gabriel Attal, warned that France could end up with its first far-right government since World War II, if French voters didn’t come together to prevent that scenario in round two of polling next Sunday.

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“The extreme right is at the doors of power,” Prime Minister Attal said, while describing the National Rally’s policy pledges as “disastrous”. He added that in the second-round ballot, “not one vote should go to the National Rally. France does not deserve that.”

Securing a parliamentary majority would enable RN leader Le Pen to install her 28-year-old protege, Jordan Bardella, as prime minister.

If such an outcome does materialise, Macron could be left to see out the remaining three years of his presidential term with a prime minister from an opposition party.

However, according to reports, while the RN bloc appears on track to win the most seats in the French National Assembly, it might still fall short of the 289 seats required for an absolute majority. Experts have told the media that as a result, there is a chance that France could be heading for a hung parliament and increased political uncertainty.

According to projections, after the second round of voting next Sunday, the RN could win between 230 and 280 seats in the 577-seat Lower House. Either outcome would be a staggering rise from the party’s tally of 88 seats in the outgoing parliament. Meanwhile, the NFP is projected to secure between 125 and 165 seats and the Ensemble between 70 and 100 seats.

With another week of campaigning to go before the decisive final vote next Sunday, the French election’s outcome remains uncertain.

France’s snap parliamentary polls explained

*What’s at stake?

The snap elections could either see France’s first far-right government since World War II or no majority emerging at all

*Who’s in the running?

The three major political blocs are: the far-right National Rally, the New Popular Front coalition that includes center-left, greens and hard-left forces, and President Macron’s centrist alliance

*How do French parliamentary polls work?

A parliamentary candidate requires over 50 per cent of the day’s vote to be elected outright. Failing that, the top two contenders move forward to a second round of polling

What would a far-right win mean for France? 

With the RN party claiming that anti-Semitism is now a problem among France’s left wing, it has shifted its focus against migrants and Muslims.

As a result, a win for the RN could have significant repercussions for France, which is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim community.

In the past, Bardella has said that the party will work towards banning the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in public spaces and making it easier to close down mosques. Bardella has also indicated that his party will fight against “Islamist ideologies”, but he has not specified what specific legislation it would adopt in this regard.

The RN party, co-founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was regarded as a danger to democracy in France for decades. It was seen as a party that promoted racist, anti-Muslim, and antisemitic views.

At its start, the 52-year-old party’s ranks even included former members of a Waffen-SS military unit under Nazi command during World War II.

However, after Marine Le Pen’s years-long public relations effort to detoxify its image, the renamed party has seen a surge in its political fortunes. The party was earlier called the National Front.

Still, the party, known for its anti-immigration stance, has kept intact its traditional doctrine, called “national priority”. Under this doctrine, if the RN were in power, French citizens would be given priority over non-nationals when it comes to jobs, housing, and social welfare assistance.

The RN has made the introduction of the “national priority”, via constitutional referendum, its top priority. It has also pledged to bar dual nationals from certain strategic state jobs.

The RN’s other top priorities include adopting stringent border controls and scrapping birthright citizenship, a centuries-long practice that has been granting citizenship to those born in France to foreign parents.

What about French foreign policy?

In recent days, Bardella has softened and even reversed some of the RN’s traditional positions. For example, while pushing back against allegations that some of his party’s members had links to the Kremlin, he made a U-turn on Ukraine and said that he was committed to continued military support to Kyiv.

Recently, however, Bardella also said that he opposed sending to the conflict French troops and weapons capable of striking Russian soil.

Experts describe Macron’s stance on Ukraine as unwavering, with France playing the role of a pillar of the European Union (EU).

They contend that a Bardella-led government in France that was not as committed to the EU would mark a significant shift.

French observers and political experts also add that should the RN win this election, it will shift its focus to its ultimate goal — securing the French presidency in 2027.

(With input from the Associated Press) 

First Published: Jul 01 2024 | 3:59 PM IST

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