Sat. Jul 13th, 2024


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French voters on Sunday morning turned out in record numbers in the first round of a high-stakes snap election that could usher in a far-right government and shake the EU to its core.

At noon local time, 25.9 per cent of voters had already cast their ballot, compared with 18.43 per cent in 2022 — the highest turnout in more than four decades, according to Ipsos researcher Mathieu Gallard. Voter participation is a key factor in this election because it will help determine how many of President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble candidates qualify for next week’s final round of voting.

Macron called for the unexpected legislative poll earlier this month after losing European parliamentary elections to the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) by a wide margin. 

Although the move stunned the public and angered many even in his own camp, Macron defended it as a “moment of clarification” for citizens to decide who they wanted to govern the country given the steady rise of Marine Le Pen’s RN party. Macron also argued that the National Assembly, where his centrist alliance lost its outright majority in 2022, was riven by “disorder” that made legislating difficult.

But Macron’s extraordinary gamble to call snap elections looks set to backfire. 

Although seat projections are difficult to make given the two-round voting format, pollsters say the RN may win an outright majority of 289 out of 577 seats in the assembly. That would force Macron into an uncomfortable power-sharing government known as a “cohabitation” and compel him to pick Le Pen’s 28-year-old protégé Jordan Bardella as prime minister. 

RN president Jordan Bardella arrives at an electronic polling station in Garches, near Paris, on Sunday
RN president Jordan Bardella arrives at an electronic polling station in Garches, near Paris, on Sunday © Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Polls opened at 8am local time, and will close at 6pm in small towns and 8pm in big cities when exit polls will be unveiled. The final results will not be known until after the second round on July 7.

Many French voters have come to reject Macron, who they see as elitist and out of touch, and prefer Le Pen’s RN for its emphasis on cost of living issues and wages, on top of its traditional anti-immigration stance. Public opinion has also drifted rightward in the past decade as identity politics moved centre stage with the RN casting France’s Muslim minority as a threat to the secular values of the republic.

An Ipsos poll on Friday showed Le Pen’s RN on track to win the first round with 32 per cent of voting intentions, while a leftwing alliance known as the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) was at 29 per cent. Ensemble was set to come in third with 20 per cent of the vote.

The election may also end in a hung parliament in which there is no majority behind a prime minister who can survive a no-confidence vote. Gridlock would ensue, and Macron cannot call for another dissolution of parliament for a year. 

If the RN triumphs and forces a cohabitation with Macron after more than 50 years in opposition, it will mark the consecration for Le Pen’s decade-long effort to “detoxify” the party her father co-founded with a former soldier in the French unit of the Nazi’s Waffen-SS. 

In a cohabitation, the RN would run the government, domestic affairs and set the budget, while Macron would remain chief of the armed forces and set foreign policy. There have been three cohabitations in France’s postwar history, but none involving parties with such diametrically opposite views. 

Le Pen and Bardella have both signalled in recent days that they would challenge the president’s authority including on defence and foreign policy — a prospect which is likely to alarm allies and markets alike.

The NFP alliance — consisting of the far-left La France Insoumise (LFI) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the centre-left Socialists, the Greens and the Communists — has a heavy tax-and-spend economic programme and has cast itself as the only way to block the RN. But its factions have different views on many issues and have been unable to settle on a candidate for prime minister. The three-time presidential candidate Mélenchon has indicated he wants the job, but his allies disagree.

The two-round format complicates seat projections. Candidates who rack up an absolute majority in the first round win their seat outright — a rare occurrence. Most of the 577 districts will be decided in a run-off next Sunday between candidates who won at least 12.5 per cent of registered voters in the first round.

Turnout in parliamentary elections has usually hovered around 50 per cent, though pollsters expect a higher participation on Sunday. The higher the turnout, the more chances for Macron’s centrist candidates to make it into the second round, resulting potentially in hundreds of three-way run-offs.

Parties will have 48 hours after the first round to decide whether to maintain their candidates for the run-offs, and pressure will mount on Macron’s candidates and the left’s to tactically drop out to stave off the RN.




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#Voters #turn #record #numbers #Frances #highstakes #snap #election

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