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France Elections May Result in Historic Far-Right Victory or Hung Parliament

Photo : AFP

Voting has begun in France on Sunday in pivotal runoff elections that could hand a historic victory to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and its inward-looking, anti-immigrant vision — or produce a hung parliament and years of political deadlock.

Marine Le Pen's National Rally has built up broad and deep support with rural voters over a decade by blaming immigration for France's problems. The party has steadily gained strong support from these voters, making significant inroads in French politics.

French President Emmanuel Macron took a huge gamble in dissolving parliament and calling for the elections after his centrists were trounced in European elections on June 9. The snap elections in this nuclear-armed nation will influence the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy, and Europe’s economic stability, and they’re almost certain to undercut President Macron for the remaining three years of his presidency.

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The first round on June 30 saw the largest gains ever for the anti-immigration, nationalist National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen. Sunday’s vote determines which party controls the National Assembly and who will be prime minister. If support is further eroded for Macron’s weak centrist majority, he will be forced to share power with parties opposed to most of his pro-business, pro-European Union policies.

Racism and antisemitism have marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian cyber campaigns, and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked — highly unusual for France. The government is deploying 30,000 police on voting day.

The heightened tensions come while France is celebrating a very special summer: Paris is about to host exceptionally ambitious Olympic Games, the national soccer team reached the semifinal of the Euro 2024 championship, and the Tour de France is racing around the country alongside the Olympic torch.

Meanwhile, 49 million voters are in the midst of the country’s most important elections in decades. France could have its first far-right government since the Nazi occupation in World War II if the National Rally wins an absolute majority and its 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella becomes prime minister. The party came out on top in the previous week's first-round voting, followed by a coalition of center-left, hard-left, and Green parties, and Macron’s centrist alliance.

The outcome remains highly uncertain. Polls between the two rounds suggest that the National Rally may win the most seats in the 577-seat National Assembly but fall short of the 289 seats needed for a majority. That would still make history if a party with historic links to xenophobia and downplaying the Holocaust, and long seen as a pariah, becomes France’s biggest political force.

If it wins the majority, Macron would be forced to share power in an awkward arrangement known in France as "cohabitation." Another possibility is that no party has a majority, resulting in a hung parliament. That could prompt Macron to pursue coalition negotiations with the center-left or name a technocratic government with no political affiliations.

Both would be unprecedented for modern France and make it more difficult for the European Union’s No. 2 economy to make bold decisions on arming Ukraine, reforming labor laws, or reducing its huge deficit. Financial markets have been jittery since Macron surprised even his closest allies in June by announcing snap elections after the National Rally won the most seats for France in European Parliament elections.

Many French voters, especially in small towns and rural areas, are frustrated with low incomes and a Paris political leadership seen as elitist and unconcerned with workers' day-to-day struggles. National Rally has connected with those voters, often by blaming immigration for France's problems, and has built up broad and deep support over the past decade.

Le Pen has softened many of the party's positions — she no longer calls for quitting NATO and the EU — to make it more electable. But the party’s core far-right values remain. It wants a referendum on whether being born in France is enough to merit citizenship, to curb the rights of dual citizens, and give police more freedom to use weapons.

The second-round voting began Saturday in France’s overseas territories from the South Pacific to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and North Atlantic. The elections wrap up Sunday at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) in mainland France. Initial polling projections are expected Sunday night, with early official results expected late Sunday and early Monday.

Regardless of what happens, Macron said he won’t step down and will stay president until his term ends in 2027.

July 7, 2024 12:06 p.m. 354

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