French far-right voters score high in first round of voting, polls show

According to previous predictions, the Rassemblement National party won a landslide victory in the first round of voting for the French National Assembly. This brought her long-taboo nationalist and anti-immigration policies to power for the first time.

Opinion polls, which are normally reliable and based on preliminary results, suggested the party would get about 34 percent of the vote, well ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance Party and its allies, which got about 21 percent.

The results of the two-round elections, which will conclude on July 7 with a second round between the leading parties in each constituency, do not provide a reliable projection of the number of parliamentary seats each party will secure. But it now seems very likely that the National Rally will be the biggest force in the House of Commons, although not necessarily with an absolute majority.

According to the forecasts, a coalition of left-wing parties called the New Popular Front, ranging from the moderate Socialists to the far-left France Unbowed, won about 29 percent of the vote. Turnout was very high, reflecting the importance voters attach to the early elections, at over 65 percent, compared with 47.51 percent in the first round of the last parliamentary elections in 2022.

For Macron, who is now in his seventh term as president, the result was a major setback. He had gambled on the fact that the painful defeat suffered by his party in the recent European Parliament elections against Rassemblement National would not be repeated.

In a statement released immediately after the projections were released, Mr Macron said that “faced with the National Rally, it is time for a large, clearly democratic and republican alliance for the second round.”

It is unclear whether this was still possible at a time when the National Assembly clearly had the wind in its sails.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally, declared that France had “voted without ambiguity and turned a page on seven years of undermining power.” She urged her supporters to ensure her protege, Jordan Bardella, 28, becomes the next prime minister.

Mr Macron’s decision to hold the election now, just weeks before the Paris Olympics, surprised many in France, not least his own prime minister, who was left in the dark. It reflected a top-down style of governance that has left the president more isolated.

There was no obligation to plunge France into summer unrest with a hasty vote, but Macron was convinced it was his democratic duty to test French sentiment in a national vote.

He was also convinced that a dissolution of the National Assembly and elections by October would be inevitable, as his proposed deficit-cutting budget was expected to face insurmountable opposition.

“It was better to hold the election now,” said an official close to Macron, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with French political protocol. “In October, an absolute majority for the Rassemblement National was inevitable, according to our polls.”

Of course, the National Rally could end up with an absolute majority of 289 seats in the 577-seat parliament when the second round of voting is held in a week. Mr. Macron, whose party and allies have held about 250 seats since the last parliamentary vote in 2022, has been frustrated in his attempts to advance his agenda by his lack of an absolute majority and inability to form stable coalitions.

In the run-up to the election, Mr Macron tried every threatening specter, including a potential “civil war”, to warn people not to vote for what he called “the extremes” – the National Rally with its views on immigrants second. class and the far-left France Unbowed with its anti-Semitic outbursts.

He told the pensioners they would be left penniless. He said the National Rally represented “the abandonment of everything that makes our country attractive and keeps investors.” He said the left would tax the vitality of the French economy and close the nuclear power plants that provide about 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

“The extremes are the impoverishment of France,” Macron said.

But those calls fell on deaf ears, because despite all his achievements, including reducing unemployment, Mr Macron had lost touch with the people the National Rally appealed to. His centrist movement, once dominant, has suffered a heavy defeat.

Those people, across the country, felt addressed by the president. They felt like he didn’t understand their struggle. They felt like he was pretending to listen, but not anymore. Looking for a way to express their anger, they joined the party that said immigrants were the problem, despite an aging France’s need for them. They chose the party, the National Rally, whose leaders did not attend elite schools.

The rise of the Rassemblement National has been steady and inexorable. Founded just over half a century ago as the National Front by Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and by Pierre Bosquet, who was a member of a French division of the Waffen SS during World War II, it faced an ironclad barrier against his entry into government for decades.

This was rooted in French shame. The collaborationist Vichy government had deported more than 72,000 Jews to their deaths during World War II, and France was determined never to experiment with a far-right nationalist government again.

Ms Le Pen expelled her father from the party in 2015 after he insisted that Nazi gas chambers were a “detail of history”. She renamed the party and embraced the smooth and unappealing Mr Bardella as her protégé. She also abandoned some of her most extreme positions, including a bid to leave the European Union.

It worked, even though certain principles remained unchanged, including the party’s Eurosceptic nationalism. Also unchanged was the willingness to distinguish between foreign residents and French citizens, and the emphasis placed on the fact that the country’s crime levels and other ills stem from too many immigrants. a claim that some research has disputed.

For Mr Macron, whose term is limited and who must step down in 2027, three difficult years seem to lie ahead of him. Just how difficult will only become clear after the second round of voting. He could, it seems, be remembered as the president who allowed the far right to enter the highest government offices.

How he would govern with a party that represents everything he has opposed and deplored throughout his political career is unclear. If the National Rally gets the Prime Minister’s job, for which Mr Bardella was drafted, it will be in a position to set much of the domestic agenda.

Mr. Macron has vowed not to step down under any circumstances, and the president of the Fifth Republic has generally exercised broad control over foreign and military policy. But the National Rally has already indicated that it wants to limit Macron’s power. There is no doubt that the party will try if it wins an absolute majority.

Mr Macron took a huge discretionary risk. “No to defeat. Yes to awakening, to a leap forward for the Republic!” he declared shortly after his decision was made. But now that the second round of elections is approaching, the Republic seems wounded and the divisions are rending.

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