Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

French voters blocked the far right — for now. What’s next?

By 37ci3 Jul9,2024


After last week’s parliamentary elections, one word pervades French politics: impasse.

Marine Le Pen’s the far-right National Rally failed to win a majority, but neither did the left-wing alliance New People’s Front nor the president’s centrists Emmanuel Macron.

With 2024 Paris Olympics the looming result is a divided Parliament, which could lead to months of political maneuvering and painstaking negotiations to secure a coalition government in a country with no history of two-party power sharing.

Meanwhile, the far right has not gone away. Le Pen is likely to turn her attention to France’s biggest political prize, the 2027 presidential election.

Here’s what you need to know:

The French political system has never been in this situation before. After the second round of legislative elections, no party won a majority of 289 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, France’s equivalent of the US House of Representatives.

The New Popular Front, a broad left alliance of radical France with communists, greens and moderate socialists, fared best.

But the 182 seats it won were still far short of the number needed to govern. Macron’s centrist coalition, United for the Republic, came second with 168 votes.

Although these centrists and leftists have come together, they have agreed to support each other’s candidates when necessary. National Rally – the populist rebranding of France’s old National Front party – came third with 143 seats.

The 28-year-old is in charge Jordan Bardella, the party looked set to win outright after the first round of voting last month. But Sunday’s second round and a far-right tactical vote deal known as the “cordon sanitaire” or “Republican Front” were blocked.

The result of legislative elections, which Macron called three years early in a bid to reshape the political landscape, leaves France with no clear path to forming a new government three weeks before the Paris Olympics.
Far-right leader Jordan Bardella was poised to take power after the first round of voting last month.Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP – Getty Images

“We have to vote,” Anne Boudin, 58, of Paris, told NBC News on Sunday as she headed to vote in the second round of the contest.

Many were similarly compelled, and the 67.1% voter turnout was the highest in decades.

Although the political mainstream had not won, it had not lost, and some claimed an important victory.

“No absolute majority can succumb to extremes thanks to the strength of our determination and values,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said in a speech outside his official Paris residence, Hôtel Matignon, on Sunday evening.

“We owe it to this French spirit.” Attal added that he did not agree with Macron’s decision to call surprise elections.

His offers to resign after the second round of voting, it was again rejected by Macron. Instead, Macron asked Attal, whom he appointed prime minister just 7 months ago, to serve as the head of the interim government until a coalition is formed “to ensure the stability of the country.”

So who’s in charge?

Because no one won a majority of seats. France there is what is known as a hung parliament. This means that if the parties want to do something, they will have to work together, either informally or as part of a coalition.

It is not clear whether they will be able to do so. As in the United States, French politics is polarized on issues such as immigration and taxes. And unlike the neighbors Germany and elsewhere, there is no culture of bilateral power sharing.

Forecasts showed a broad left-wing coalition heading into tough legislative elections in France ahead of both the president's centrists and the far-right, with no group winning an absolute majority.
Supporters of the left wing New People’s Front.Sebastien Salom-Gomis / AFP via Getty Images

That’s partly because the French system is structured so that the prime minister and parliament carry out the will of a stronger president, said Jonathan Eyal, international director of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

He said there is no playbook for what will happen if these forces fight against each other.

“Even if there is a coalition, it is not clear how it will work,” Eyal added.

Veteran socialist firebrand Jean-Luc MélenchonThe 72-year-old woman demanded that Macron appoint a prime minister from the New Popular Front alliance on Sunday. But Macron has previously refused to work with Mélenchon or the hard-left faction he represents, calling them “extremists”.

Macron may try to form a coalition with other more moderate elements of this alliance. Last week, he dropped a policy that would have limited workers’ Social Security payments, seen by many as a mid-election olive branch to progressives.

“This is the only way I can see them forming a government,” Eyal said. “But Mélenchon will not allow himself to be defeated so easily, so we can expect some controversy.”

If a coalition fails to form, the parties will have to try to legislate separately – a major act that could lead to a stalemate if they fail, possibly reducing France’s influence on the European and global stage.

What comes next?

Macron did not run for office this time and will remain in office until his second and final presidential term expires in 2027.

Even if he manages to assemble a government, Macron’s pro-business agenda will be difficult to implement. So are the left, hoping to raise the minimum wage and freeze energy prices.

In the short-term, the far-right’s opponents look at least somewhat victorious. But few kid themselves that this is the end of the argument. Le Pen’s party won just eight seats in 2017, a surge that would see her in power for a decade if it continues.

“Coming is rising,” Le Pen said after Sunday’s result. “It didn’t rise enough this time, but it’s still rising, and as a result, our victory was only delayed.”



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