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Left-Wing Coalition Forming Anti-RN Front Aid Second Round of France Elections

Published: July 3, 2024
(Image: Marine Le Pen, member of parliament and French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National - RN) party leader, arrives at the RN party headquarters in Paris, France, July 1, 2024. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)

After Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party made historic gains in the first round of France’s parliamentary election on June 30, opposition left-wing parties are now to build a united front to block the path of RN to the government.

The RN and its allies won the first round with 33 percent of the vote, followed by a left-wing bloc with 28 percent. President Emmanuel Macron’s broad alliance of centrists scored just 22 percent of the votes.

Macron had called the snap election after his ticket was trampled by the RN in the European Parliament election last month.

“I’m satisfied, because we need change,” said RN supporter Jean-Claude Gaillet, 64, in Le Pen’s northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont. 

But others feared the rise of the RN and its nationalist platform would cause growing tensions in French society.

“I don’t think people realize what’s happening, they are only thinking of the cost of living and short-term things like that,” said Yamina Addou outside a supermarket in the nearby town of Oignies, south of Lille. 

Whether RN can form a government will depend now on how successfully other parties manage to oppose Le Pen, by rallying rival candidates in hundreds of constituencies across the country.

Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old leader of the RN, is the candidate of the party as France’s youngest-ever prime minister. His party would need at least 289 seats for an absolute majority in parliament, something that is not likely to happen.

Left response

Leaders of both the left-wing New Popular Front and Macron’s centrist alliance said on Sunday night they would withdraw candidates in districts where another candidate was better placed to beat the RN in the next run-off.

Pollster company Ipsos calculated the first round had left to contendends around 300 of the 577 seats in France’s National Assembly. 

Le Monde newspaper said third-placed candidates had already withdrawn in around 160 of those.

While the so-called “republican front” against the far-right has broadly worked in the past, analysts question whether French voters are still ready to cast second-round ballots as directed by political leaders.

RN was for a longtime considered a pariah in the country, but is now closer to power than it has ever been. A similar phenomenon has been seen in Germany, where the Alternative for Germany (AfD), once broadly revived as a right-wing extremist outfit, has become the single most popular party in the country. 

Marine Le Pen has sought to clean up the image of a party known for racism and antisemitism, a tactic that seems to have worked amid voters’ dissatisfaction with Macron, who is seen by many as out of touch with their everyday problems.

The RN gains were welcomed by nationalists across Europe, including Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Spain’s Vox party. 

Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s Socialist premier, said left-leaning parties could still block the path to RN victory.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock signaled concern at the rise of “a party that sees Europe as the problem and not the solution.” She drew parallels to the rise of the AfD in her own country. 

An RN-led government would raise major questions over where the European Union was headed. 

Human rights groups have raised concerns about how its “France first” policies would apply to ethnic minorities, while economists question whether its hefty spending plans are fully funded.

Hung parliament

The main alternative scenario to an RN-led government would be a hung parliament, potentially making France ungovernable for the rest of Macron’s presidency until 2027.

In constituencies with no outright winner, the top two candidates, plus any candidate with more than 12.5 percent of registered voters in that constituency, have until Tuesday evening (July 4) to confirm whether they will go into the second round.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal suspended unemployment reform plans which would have reduced jobseekers’ benefits, a move that may make it easier for left-wing voters to back Macron allies.

RN lawmakers, meanwhile, urged center-right politicians in the Republicans (LR) party to withdraw from districts where such a move would work in RN’s favor. The Republican party received less than 7 percent of the first-round vote.

The LR has yet to clarify its stance. The party split ahead of the vote, with a small number of its lawmakers joining the RN ranks.

Jordan Bardella focused his attacks on left-wing parties, describing the far-left as “an existential threat” to France.

Reuters contributed to this report.