France Elections: Will Voters Punish Macron, Confirm Far-Right Rule?

PARIS — Reflecting the perceived stakes, turnout is high in France for early legislative elections — a vote that could shatter President Emmanuel Macron’s parliamentary coalition and bring a far-right government to power here for the first time since World War II.

As of 5pm local time on Sunday, The registered voter turnout was over 59 percent – much higher than the equivalent time of the legislative elections in 2022, according to the French Ministry of the Interior. Perhaps the reason the election announcement came as such a surprise was the turnout Requested proxy vote The ministry said it has doubled compared to the legislative elections held two years ago.

Models from various polling firms on Sunday suggested the final turnout for this round could be as high as 67.5 percent, meaning French voters are treating it more like a presidential election.

Voting ends at 8 PM local time or 2 PM Eastern Time. France’s public broadcaster usually announces a program soon.

Sunday’s results will provide the first indication of how harshly voters want to punish Macron’s centrists, while encouraging populists on the right and extremists on the left. Some of the candidates vying to represent the country’s 577 constituencies are expected to get enough votes to be elected outright.

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The runoff on July 7 will answer the big questions: Will the far-right National Rally win enough seats in the National Assembly to form a government, with its leader Jordan Bardella becoming prime minister, or the prospect of a hung parliament that could end France in chaos.

Recent polls expect the National Rally to get about 36 percent of the vote in this first round; the left-wing New Popular Front about 28 percent; And together, Macron’s coalition lags behind with around 21 percent.

While the National is expected to win big in rally seats, projections show it could fall short of a majority by dozens. Analysts warn that the complexity of regional races makes predictions less accurate than presidential elections.

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Whatever the outcome of the election, Macron is likely to remain president until his term ends in 2027 – and has said he will not resign. But a victory in a national rally would see Macron’s coalition fall to third place, a major defeat for the 46-year-old leader, effectively ending his pro-Europe, pro-business political experiment.

If the National Rally wins a majority, Macron will have to share power with the 28-year-old Bardella, and there is little he can do to block the adoption of nationalist laws passed by parliament. Alternatively, if elections result in a hung parliament, it will be difficult to achieve anything.

Even Macron’s allies have voiced deep frustration, saying the dissolution of parliament came at the worst-possible time for them and could destroy the president’s legacy.

When the French emperor launched his failed campaign to invade Russia in 1812, former French ambassador to the United States, Gérard Arad, compared Macron to Napoleon Bonaparte. Many politicians who have supported him over the years now face the possibility of losing their positions. , leaving Macron politically isolated, Arad said in an interview on Sunday.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, “the French crisis has just begun,” Arad said.

When Macron first won the presidency in 2017, he became France’s youngest leader since Napoleon and its first modern president who did not belong to the center-left or center-right parties that have dominated France for decades.

Successfully outmaneuvering the traditional left and right and defeating nationalist Marine Le Pen, his supporters saw him as a master political strategist and the only French politician capable of derailing the rise of the far right.

Some of his critics say he destroyed the center by making radical parties the only viable outlets for anyone disillusioned with his plan.

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The National Rally party grew out of a fringe movement co-founded by Le Pen’s father, a Holocaust denier. But efforts by Le Pen and Bardella to make the party more broadly appealing have yielded significant results: support has almost doubled in the past two years, from 19 percent in the 2022 legislative election to 36 percent now.

After his coalition suffered a humiliating defeat in European Parliament elections on June 9, Macron announced snap elections. Although he did not need to dissolve France’s National Assembly, he said he had no choice. If he did not call for a vote, he told reporters: “You would have said to me: ‘This guy has lost touch with reality’.”

Macron probably believed that higher turnout and the higher stakes of a national election would boost his coalition’s chances. But opinion polls show that public sentiment in France has remained largely unchanged since the European elections.

“He may have underestimated the animosity he would generate in a segment of the population,” said Chloe Morin, an author and political analyst.

Macron may also have underestimated the French left. Despite its deep divisions, the left has managed to cobble together a broad coalition that is now second in the polls, overtaking Macron’s allies.

Macron has frustrated some left-wing supporters by sometimes portraying the far left as just as dangerous as the far right. The vitriolic rhetoric and conspiracy theories spread by National Rally candidates and grassroots supporters continue to raise concerns about how far it has evolved from its anti-Semitic and racist roots.

Nearly 1 in 5 National Rally candidates for parliament have made “racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic comments,” Macron’s outgoing prime minister Gabriel Attal said in a televised debate Thursday night.

National Rally voters were not swayed by these concerns. “Maybe the party is racist and bigoted, but France needs change,” said Maud, 32, who lives in Arnoville, north of Paris.

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Moud, who did not give his last name to protect his privacy, is of Moroccan-Jewish descent and initially considered voting for Macron’s party. But in the end, he said he voted for Sunday’s national rally because he felt “French people should have more privileges than foreigners.”

Exit polls from European elections three weeks ago suggest the far-right is benefiting from rising concerns over the cost of living, despite the fact that governments under Macron have spent more to reduce inflation than many European countries. Voters blame Macron’s unpopular decision to raise the retirement age last year. Immigration and security concerns are on the rise, polls show.

His sudden decision to dissolve parliament caused alarm in many European capitals. France is one of the original members of the European Union, its second largest economy and a driving force in EU affairs.

The National Rally party does not support leaving the bloc, but many of its proposals are outside EU policies. A highly Eurosceptic France could block Franco-German cooperation, undermine integration and generally make things more difficult to get done.

Another concern is how a far-right victory would change the union’s Ukraine policy. Le Pen has already challenged Macron’s grip on French foreign policy and security, suggesting the president should take on a more prestigious role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

“What arrogance!” Macron said Friday in Brussels, responding to Le Pen’s comments in an interview with Le Télégramme newspaper published earlier in the day.

Far-right politicians are speaking “as if they were already there” in government, he said, the Associated Press reported. “But the French haven’t made a choice yet.”

Rouhala reported from Brussels and Timsit from Nice, France.

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