Far-right wins first round in France election, exit polls show, as run-off horse-trading begins

Asia World

The exit polls were in line with opinion polls ahead of the election, but provided little clarity on whether the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic RN will be able to form a government to “cohabit” with the pro-EU Macron after next Sunday’s run-off.

French President Emmanuel Macron greets residents at a polling station in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

The RN’s chances of winning power next week will depend on the political deal making made by its rivals over the coming days. In the past, centre-right and centre-left parties have teamed up to keep the RN from power, but that dynamic, known as the “republican front”, is less certain than ever.

If no candidate reaches 50 per cent in the first round, the top two contenders automatically qualify for the second round, as well as all those with 12.5 per cent of registered voters. In the run-off, whoever wins the most votes take the constituency.

High turnout on Sunday suggests France is heading for a record number of three-way run-offs. These generally benefit the RN much more than two-way contests, experts say.

The horse-trading began almost immediately on Sunday night.

In a written statement to the press, Macron called on voters to rally behind candidates who are “clearly republican and democratic” which, based on his recent declarations, would exclude candidates from the RN and from the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party.

“Faced with National Rally, the time has come for a broad, clearly democratic and republican alliance for the second round,” Macron said in a statement. He also said that the high turnout in the first round spoke of “the importance of this vote for all our compatriots and the desire to clarify the political situation”.

I will be a ‘cohabitation’ prime minister, respectful of the constitution and of the office of President of the Republic, but uncompromising about the policies we will implement

Jordan Bardella, president of France’s National Rally party

LFI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said the second-placed NFP alliance will withdraw all its candidates who came third in the first round.

“Our guideline is simple and clear: not a single more vote for the National Rally,” he said.

Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old RN party president, said he was ready to be prime minister – if his party wins an absolute majority. He has ruled out trying to form a minority government and neither Macron nor the NFP will form an alliance with him.

“I will be a ‘cohabitation’ prime minister, respectful of the constitution and of the office of President of the Republic, but uncompromising about the policies we will implement,” he said.

Le Pen said Macron’s camp has been “almost wiped out”. She said she wants an “absolute majority” in parliament for the far-right.

Jordan Bardella, president of National Rally, in Paris, France on Sunday. Photo: Bloomberg

The RN was seen winning the most seats in the National Assembly, but only one of the pollsters – Elabe – had the party winning an absolute majority of 289 seats in the run-off.

Experts say that seat projections after first-round votes can be highly inaccurate, and especially so in this election.

Voter participation was high compared with previous parliamentary elections, illustrating the political fervour Macron aroused with his stunning decision to call a parliamentary vote after the RN trounced his party in European Parliament elections earlier this month.

His decision plunged France into political uncertainty, sent shock waves around Europe and prompted a sell-off of French assets on financial markets.

A long-time pariah, the RN is now closer to power than it has ever been. Le Pen has sought to clean up the image of a party known for racism and antisemitism, a tactic that has worked amid voter anger at Macron, the high cost of living and growing concerns over immigration.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, centre, leader of left-wing party La France Isoumise (LFI), part of left-wing coalition Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP). Photo: AFP

Sunday’s vote is the first round of high-stakes early parliamentary elections that could put the government in the hands of nationalist, far-right parties for the first time since the Nazi era.

The two-round elections that wrap up on July 7 could impact European financial markets, Western support for Ukraine and the management of France’s nuclear arsenal and global military force.

Many French voters are frustrated about inflation and other economic concerns, as well as Macron’s leadership, seen as arrogant and out-of-touch with their lives. Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally party has tapped that discontent, notably via online platforms such as TikTok, and led in pre-election opinion polls.
Supporters of Le Pen celebrate after partial results in the first round of the early French parliamentary elections, in Henin-Beaumont, France on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

A new coalition on the left, the New Popular Front, also poses a challenge to the pro-business Macron and his centrist alliance Together for the Republic. It includes the French Socialists and Communists, the greens and the hard-left France Unbowed party and vows to reverse an unpopular pension reform law that raised the retirement age to 64, among other economic reforms.

There are 49.5 million registered voters who will choose the 577 members of the National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament.

Macron called the early elections after his party was trounced in the European Parliament election earlier in June by the National Rally, which has historic ties to racism and antisemitism and is hostile toward France’s Muslim community. It also has historical ties to Russia.

Macron’s call was an audacious gamble that French voters who were complacent about the European election would be jolted into turning out for moderate forces in national elections to keep the far-right out of power.

04:58

‘It’s a civil war’: French New Caledonia declares state of emergency amid pro-independence protests

‘It’s a civil war’: French New Caledonia declares state of emergency amid pro-independence protests

In the event that the National Rally wins a parliamentary majority, Macron would be expected to name Bardella as prime minister in an awkward power-sharing system known as “cohabitation”.

While Macron has said he will not step down before his presidential term expires in 2027, cohabitation would weaken him at home and on the world stage.

Bardella, who has no governing experience, says he would use the powers of prime minister to stop Macron from continuing to supply long-range weapons to Ukraine for the war with Russia.

The National Rally has also questioned the right to citizenship for people born in France, and wants to curtail the rights of French citizens with dual nationality. Critics say this undermines human rights and is a threat to France’s democratic ideals.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press