French far-right scores convincing first-round election win: What to know

lepen france 063024 AP

The far-right National Rally party in France scored a convincing early lead in the first round of the country’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to pollsters, bringing controversial leader Marine Le Pen a step closer to forming a government.

President Emmanuel Macron, of the centrist Renaissance party, executed a high-stakes gambit last month by dissolving parliament after National Rally made significant gains in the European Parliament election.

Macron hoped that National Rally’s hard-line immigration stance and antisemitic history would dampen its votes in the legislative election, but that wasn’t the case Sunday.

National Rally and its allied parties won about 33 percent of the vote in the first round, according to early projections. A left-wing coalition of parties received 28 percent of the vote, while Macron’s coalition gathered 21 percent.

High turnout points at high stakes for election

Nearly two-thirds of French voters turned out on Sunday, a massive increase from the pivotal 2022 elections, which saw Macron triumph over Le Pen for the presidency. That election saw just under 40 percent turnout. 

If National Rally were to gain a majority in parliament, it would force Macron to name a National Rally member — likely party president Jordan Bardella — as prime minister. It would also effectively gridlock his agenda.

Macron has faced numerous challenges in recent months, including unrest over inflation and the economy writ large. Opponents mainly campaigned on cost of living increases and other common economic gripes with the French government.

Renaissance and the left-wing coalition, meanwhile, have attacked National Rally for its nativist policies, including a proposed large-scale immigration crackdown and limits on the rights of dual nationals.

Bardella has already pledged to scale back arms shipments to Ukraine if elected, a stark shift from Macron, who is among Europe’s most staunch allies of Kyiv.

Prime minister urges voters to block far-right in second round

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, a Macron ally, warned of dire stakes if his opponents prevail in the second round of voting next week.

A runoff will be held in districts where no parliamentary candidate secured 50 percent of the vote, and maneuvering in the coming days will decide the dynamics for each local race. National Rally would need 289 out of the 577 seats to secure an outright majority.

“The extreme right is at the doors of power,” Attal said, twice describing National Rally policy pledges as “disastrous.” He added that in the second-round ballot, “not one vote should go to the National Rally. France does not deserve that.” 

Macron’s coalition finished a distant third in voting, behind a left-wing coalition that placed second.

Attal said Sunday that candidates from his party who came in third in first round votes will bow out, in order to boost the left-wing coalition against National Rally.

Le Pen seeks ‘absolute majority’ in parliament

Le Pen appeared energized with the results, urging backers to fully oust Macron’s government from power.

“The French have almost wiped out the ‘Macronist’ bloc,” she said after polls closed, adding that the results show voters’ “willingness to turn the page after seven years of contemptuous and corrosive power.”

Bardella painted his opponents as “dangerous” in an appeal to voters.

“The choice is clear,” Bardella said, accusing the left-wing coalition of campaigning for “disarming the police,” “opening wide the doors for immigration” and criticizing leftist leaders for “insulting institutions and anyone who thinks differently from them.”

The second round of voting is July 7.

The Associated Press contributed.

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