July 15th, 2024

France is voting in a key election that could force Macron to share power with the far right

By Barbara Surk And Helena Alves, The Associated Press on July 7, 2024.

A woman casts her ballot in the second round of the legislative elections, Sunday, July 7, 2024 in Strasbourg, eastern France. France votes 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. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

PARIS (AP) – Voting is underway in mainland 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 political deadlock.

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 Macron for the remaining three years of his presidency.

The first round on June 30 saw the largest gains ever for the anti-immigration, nationalist National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen.

A bit over 49 million people are registered to vote in the elections, which will determine which party controls the 577-member National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament, 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.

Voters at a Paris polling station were acutely aware of the the far-reaching consequences for France and beyond.

“The individual freedoms, tolerance and respect for others is what at stake today,” said Thomas Bertrand, a 45-year-old voter who works in advertising.

Racism and antisemitism have marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian cybercampaigns, 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.

As of noon local time, turnout was at 26.63%, according to France’s Interior Ministry, slightly higher than the 25.90% reported at the same time during the first round last Sunday.

During the first round, the nearly 67% turnout was the highest since 1997, ending nearly three decades of deepening voter apathy for legislative elections and, for a growing number of French people, politics in general.

Macron cast his ballot in the seaside resort town of La Touquet, along with his wife Brigitte. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal voted earlier in the Paris suburb of Vanves.

Le Pen is not voting, because her district in northern France is not holding a second round after she won the seat outright last week. Across France, 76 other candidates secured seats in the first round, including 39 from her National Rally and 32 from the leftist New Popular Front alliance. Two candidates from Macron’s centrists list also won their seats in the first round.

The elections wrap up Sunday at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) in mainland France and on the island of Corsica. Initial polling projections are expected Sunday night, with early official results expected late Sunday and early Monday.

Voters residing in the Americas and in France’s overseas territories of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana and French Polynesia voted on Saturday.

The elections could leave France with 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.

Pierre Lubin, a 45-year-old business manager, was worried about whether the elections would produce an effective government.

“This is a concern for us,” Lubin said. “Will it be a technical government or a coalition government made up of (various) political forces?”

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 with a prime minister who deeply disagrees with the president’s domestic and foreign policies, 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.

No matter what happens, Macron’s centrist camp will be forced to share power. Many of his alliances’ candidates lost in the first round or withdrew, meaning it doesn’t have enough people running to come anywhere close to the majority he had in 2017 when he was was first elected president, or the plurality he got in the 2022 legislative vote.

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.

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

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 rights of dual citizens, and give police more freedom to use weapons.

With the uncertain outcome looming over the high-stakes elections, Valerie Dodeman, 55-year-old legal expert said she is pessimistic about the future of France.

“No matter what happens, I think this election will leave people disgruntled on all sides,” Dodeman said.


Surk reported from Nice, France.


Follow AP’s global election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/global-elections/

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