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France’s left-wing parties projected to finish first in parliamentary elections, keep far right at bay

A tense alliance between France’s centrist and leftist parties has kept the far-right National Rally party at bay, according to exit polls.

A bloc of left-wing parties is projected to finish first, while President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance is predicted to come in second. Polling agencies suggest National Rally, known in France as RN, is set to come in third.

The official results are expected early Monday, with voter turnout on course to be the highest in decades.

Leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon has called the results an « immense relief for the majority of people in our country, » and called for Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to resign.

« The President has a duty to call on the New Popular Front to govern, » he said.

Without a ruling parliamentary majority, however, the French government, now made up of rival parties with deep ideological divisions and no clear center of power, is likely to become locked in a political stalemate that may make it difficult to pass new legislation.

Emmanuel Macron exits a polling booth
Emmanuel Macron at the Herriot, Zay and Curie school polling station in the south of France on July 7, 2024.JC Milhet / Hans Lucas / AFP – Getty Images

The snap elections, called to widespread shock less than four weeks ago by French President Emmanuel Macron, plunged the nation into a volatile, rapid-fire election season that inflamed tensions in the country as centrists scrambled to negotiate with the left to keep the far right from taking an absolute majority after RN took the lead following the first round of voting last month.

Since then, more than 200 candidates confirmed they would not stand in the second round to avoid splitting the anti-RN vote, according to local media estimates. Protests also swept the country as demonstrators called on voters to turn out against the RN, with marches in the French capital on Wednesday.

While such tactics may have prevented the far right from implementing its fiercely anti-immigrant, eurosceptic agenda, it has likely left Parliament locked in political paralysis.

What’s next?

A hung Parliament sets up the possibility of political inertia, where parties cooperate through ad hoc alliances on a case-by-case basis to pass legislation, depriving France of a functioning government and potentially deepening the sense of disillusionment already felt by large swaths of the electorate.

This will not only affect France’s domestic policies, but could also stifle its international presence at the European Union and neutralize its most important leaders on the global stage.

RN President Jordan Bardella, a clean-cut, media-savvy 28-year-old, has said he would not govern France without a majority, and appears to have few allies to choose from, according to the exit polls.

The leftist New Popular Front alliance and Macron’s centrists are project to win enough seats to form a coalition, but Macron has said that he would reject a coalition that included the far-left France Unbowed party. Macron’s centrists have previously allied with center-right Republicans while in power.

With his presidential term running until 2027, Macron was not on the ballot, but he has said he would stay in office regardless of the outcome of the election.

Ordinarily the president would name a prime minister from the parliamentary group with the most seats in the National Assembly. But the contentious composition of the government could turn this into a tumultuous process — a prime minister can risk being overthrown through a no-confidence vote if other parties join together.

The far-left coalition has not publicly announced the selection of a candidate for prime minister, though high-profile figures on that end of the ideological spectrum include Manuel Bompard of the hard-left France Unbowed party and the Socialist Party’s Raphaël Glucksmann.

Samantha de Bendern, a geopolitical commentator for the news outlet La Chaine Info, said France could face a “year of chaos” as parties jockey for power and haggle over who should be prime minister, with Macron unable to call new parliamentary elections until June 2025.

Who is the far right?

While the RN is set to fall far short of an absolute majority, the party is on course to claim more seats than ever before.

The anti-immigrant, eurosceptic RN ran on a platform that promised to “put France back on its feet” by giving French citizens “national preference” over immigrants for jobs and housing, while abolishing the right to automatic French citizenship for children of foreign parents, and repealing some of Macron’s most controversial policies, including his government’s abolition of a tax on France’s richest and pension reforms that saw thousands take to the streets of Paris in protest.

The standard-bearer for RN in these elections is Bardella, the party’s president and a loyal protégé of Marine Le Pen, the party’s ideological leader. (Le Pen is believed to be angling for the French presidency in 2027). With Bardella front and center, National Rally wrenched power from the center during last month’s European Union parliamentary elections.

The party has also gained supporters after Le Pen began steering it away from its roots as an extreme ethnocentric party, as it was under her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, its founding president who led the party until 2011.

An Ipsos poll surveying over 10,000 voters showed the RN wields substantial support among voters of all ages, with rising support among French youth. A majority of those who identify as “disadvantaged” also overwhelmingly backed the RN in the first round of voting.

RN will be moving forward with the wind in its sails as France enters a period of political uncertainty.

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