07 July 2024

Leftist coalition wins most seats in French elections, pollsters say

07 July 2024

A coalition on the left that came together unexpectedly ahead of France’s snap elections won the most parliamentary seats in the vote, according to polling projections on Sunday.

The surprise projections just after the polls closed on Sunday evening put President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance in second place and the far right in third.

Soon afterwards, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said he plans to resign.

Mr Attal said he will remain in post during the upcoming Paris Olympics and for as long as needed, given that polling projections show that no party has won an outright majority.

There will likely be weeks of intense political negotiations to choose a new prime minister and form a government.

The lack of majority for any single alliance plunged France into political and economic turmoil. Final results are not expected until late on Sunday or early Monday in the highly volatile snap election, which was called just four weeks ago in a huge gamble for Mr Macron.

The polling projections are based on the actual vote count in select constituencies.

In Paris’s Stalingrad square, supporters on the left cheered and applauded as projections showing the alliance ahead flashed up on a giant screen.

Cries of joy also rang out in Republique plaza in eastern Paris, with people spontaneously hugging strangers and several minutes of nonstop applause after the projections landed.

Mr Macron’s office said the president would “wait for the new National Assembly to organise itself” before making any decisions.

The deeply unpopular president lost control of parliament, according to the projections. Marine Le Pen’s far right drastically increased the number of seats it holds in parliament but fell far short of expectations.

The president of France’s far-right National Rally claimed historic gains for the party and blamed Mr Macron for “pushing France into uncertainty and instability”.

In a sombre speech after the second-round legislative election, Jordan Bardella denounced the political manoeuvring that led the National Rally to fall far short of expectations.

An unprecedented number of candidates who qualified for the runoff stepped aside to allow an opponent to go head-to-head with the National Rally candidate, increasing the chances of defeating them.

Despite projections widely considered disappointing for the anti-immigration, nationalist party, it still increased its seat count in parliament to an unprecedented high, according to polling projections.

“Tonight, by deliberately taking the responsibility to paralyse our institutions, Emmanuel Macron … is consequently depriving the French people of any responses to their daily problems for many months to come,” Mr Bardella said.

The snap legislative elections in this nuclear-armed nation and major economy will influence the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy and Europe’s economic stability.

France now faces the prospect of weeks of political machinations to determine who will be prime minister and lead the National Assembly. And Mr Macron faces the prospect of leading the country alongside a prime minister opposed to most of his domestic policies.

French leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon called the projections an “immense relief for a majority of people in our country” and he demanded the resignation of the prime minister.

Mr Melenchon is the most prominent of the leftist leaders who unexpectedly came together ahead of the two-round elections.

The projections, if confirmed by official counts expected later on Sunday or early on Monday, plunge a pillar of the European Union and its second-largest economy into intense uncertainty, with no clarity about who might partner with Mr Macron as prime minister in governing France.

The timing of France’s leap into the political unknown could hardly be worse: With the Paris Olympics opening in less than three weeks, the country will be grappling with domestic instability when the eyes of the world are upon it.

For 46-year-old Mr Macron’s centrists, the legislative elections have turned into a fiasco. He stunned France, and many in his own government, by dissolving parliament’s lower house, the National Assembly, after the far right surged in French voting for the European elections.

Mr Macron argued that sending voters back to the ballot boxes would provide France with “clarification”.

The president was gambling that with France’s fate in their hands, voters might shift from the far right and left and return to mainstream parties closer to the center – where Mr Macron found much of the support that won him the presidency in 2017 and again in 2022. That, he hoped, would fortify his presidency for his remaining three years in office.

But rather than rally behind him, millions of voters on both the left and right of France’s increasingly polarised political landscape seized on his surprise decision as an opportunity to vent their anger and possibly sideline Mr Macron, by saddling him with a parliament that could now largely be filled with politicians hostile both to him and, in particular, his pro-business policies.

Already in last weekend’s first round of balloting, voters massively backed candidates from the far-right National Rally, in even greater numbers than in voting for the European Parliament. A coalition on of parties on the left took second and his centrist alliance was a distant third.

A hung parliament with no single bloc coming close to getting the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority in the National Assembly, the more powerful of France’s two legislative chambers, would be unknown territory for modern France and usher in political turmoil.

Unlike other countries in Europe that are more accustomed to coalition governments, France does not have a tradition of politicians from rival political camps coming together to form a working majority.

The sharp polarisation of French politics is sure to complicate any coalition-building effort. Racism and antisemitism marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian disinformation campaigns, and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked — highly unusual for France. The government said it deployed 30,000 police for Sunday’s runoff vote – an indication of both the high stakes and concerns that a far-right victory, or even no clear win for any bloc, could trigger protests.

Any cobbled-together majority risks being fragile, vulnerable to no-confidence votes that could cause it to fall.

Far-left La France Insoumise – LFI – (France Unbowed) founder Jean-Luc Melenchon, right, clenches his fist with other party members after the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday (Thomas Padilla/AP) (AP)

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