France's High-Stakes Legislative Elections Unfold

The second round of France's legislative elections could reshape the country's political landscape, with significant implications for both domestic and European politics.

Published July 08, 2024 - 00:07am

4 minutes read

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Voting commenced Sunday in the second round of the French legislative elections, which many view as pivotal for the country's political future. With polling stations opening across the country as early as 6:00 GMT, the electoral outcome could enable the far-right to gain unprecedented power or lead to a highly fragmented National Assembly.

According to Agence France-Presse, the elections mark a historic event for France, with the possibility of a far-right ascendancy or the emergence of a highly volatile National Assembly. France entered an electoral silence phase from Friday evening, characterized by a cessation of campaign activities and the prohibition of new opinion polls.

The atmosphere has been charged with tension throughout the campaign period, marred by insults, physical altercations targeting candidates and their supporters, and racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Voting began Saturday in overseas territories such as Saint Pierre and Miquelon, French Guiana, the Antilles, Polynesia, and New Caledonia.

Polling in major cities continued until 18:00 GMT Sunday, with initial estimates released soon after. Several polls published Friday revealed a tight competition among three major blocs: the far-right National Rally party and its allies, the left-wing New Popular Union coalition, and President Emmanuel Macron's centrist bloc.

Macron's unexpected announcement on June 9 to dissolve the National Assembly and call for early legislative elections—prompted by his coalition's failure in the European elections—thrust France into a period of political uncertainty. Polls indicate that the far-right may secure between 170 and 210 seats in the new National Assembly, falling short of the absolute majority of 289 seats.

The left-wing New Popular Union is projected to gain 155 to 185 seats, while Macron's bloc is predicted to obtain between 95 and 125 seats. Due to the anticipation of high voter turnout—the highest in 25 years—the exact distribution of seats remains uncertain.

As part of efforts to block the National Rally, over 200 candidates from the left and center withdrew from three-way races in the second round to bolster the chances of those opposing the far-right. However, European Parliament member Raphael Glucksmann cautioned against assuming that voters would follow suit, underscoring the unpredictable nature of voter behavior.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, leading Macron's campaign, warned of the risks posed by a far-right majority, labeling it a 'catastrophic project.' Meanwhile, far-right leader Marine Le Pen condemned the formation of a 'unified party' by those seeking to remain in power against the public's will.

If victorious, National Rally leader Jordan Bardella, aged 28, would head France's first far-right government since World War II, with an agenda strongly opposing immigration. This potential outcome has alarmed major European nations concerned about the leadership of a Eurosceptic party with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since Macron's electoral success in 2017, which dismantled traditional party structures, the political landscape in France has undergone significant changes. Should no clear majority emerge from the elections, the resulting political paralysis could lead to unprecedented turmoil.

In overseas territories, voter turnout trends from the first round indicated considerable left-wing support. For instance, leftist candidates maintained their seats in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, while pro-independence candidates gained ground in New Caledonia, highlighting the diverse political dynamics across territories.

The tight race among the three blocs and the contentious environment has necessitated a stringent security presence, with 30,000 police officers, including 5,000 in Paris, mobilized to prevent any disturbances on election night.

The campaign's final days were marred by violence against candidates and activists, prompting heightened security measures. Prime Minister Attal indicated that the government could maintain stability through a caretaker administration if no clear majority emerges from the election.

This election is particularly consequential as Paris prepares to host the Olympic Games from July 26 to August 11. The typical post-election resignation of the government adds another layer of complexity to the ongoing political reshaping in France, where the formation of potential coalitions remains an open question.

As polling results are awaited, the possibility of an unstable government looms, compounded by attacks and societal unrest throughout the campaign period. As a result, the trajectory of French political stability hangs in the balance, awaiting the electorate's decisive voice.


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