08 July 2024

Political paralysis looms as French vote splits among left, centre and far right

08 July 2024

French voters have divided their legislature among the left, centre and far right, with no single political faction getting close to the majority needed to form a government.

The risk of political paralysis is looming for the European Union’s second-largest economy.

President Emmanuel Macron had gambled on his decision to call snap elections giving France a “moment of clarification” – but the outcome showed the opposite, less than three weeks before the start of the Paris Olympics focuses international attention on the country.

According to the second-round results tallied early on Monday, a leftist coalition surged to take the most seats in parliament.

Mr Macron’s centrists have the second-largest faction and the unpopular President will have to form alliances to run the government.

Marine Le Pen’s far right National Rally, which led in the first round of voting, came third after political manoeuvring to keep its candidates from power.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said he would present his resignation on Monday, but could stay on for the duration of the Olympics, or longer if needed.

Newly elected and returning legislators are expected to arrive at the National Assembly to begin negotiations.

Mr Macron himself will leave later in the week for a Nato summit in Washington.

Political deadlock could rattle the markets, with far-ranging implications for the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy and Europe’s economic stability.

According to official results, all three main blocs fell far short of the 289 seats needed to control the 577-seat National Assembly, the more powerful of France’s two legislative chambers.

The results showed just over 180 seats for the New Popular Front leftist coalition, which placed first, ahead of Mr Macron’s centrist alliance, with more than 160 seats.

Ms Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and its allies were restricted to third place, although their more than 140 seats were still way ahead of the party’s previous best showing of 89 seats in 2022.

Mr Macron has three years remaining on his presidential term.

In announcing his resignation, Mr Attal made clearer than ever his disapproval of Mr Macron’s shock decision to call the election, saying: “I didn’t choose this dissolution” of the outgoing National Assembly, where the president’s centrist alliance used to be single biggest group, albeit without an absolute majority.

Rather than rallying behind Mr Macron as he had hoped, millions took the vote as an opportunity to vent anger over inflation, crime, immigration and other grievances – including the President’s style of government.

The New Popular Front’s leaders immediately pushed Mr Macron to give them the first chance to form a government and propose a prime minister.

The faction pledges to roll back many of Mr Macron’s headline reforms, embark on a costly programme of public spending, and take a tougher line against Israel over its war with Hamas.

Mr Macron warned that the left’s economic programme of many tens of billions of euro in public spending, partly financed by taxes on wealth and hikes for higher earners, could be ruinous for France, which has already been criticised by EU watchdogs for its debt.

A hung parliament is unknown territory for modern France.

Despite the uncertainty, supporters on the left cheered in Republique plaza in eastern Paris when the first results came in, with people spontaneously hugging strangers and several minutes of non-stop applause.

The political agreement between the left and centre to block the National Rally was largely successful. Many voters decided that keeping the far right from power was more important to them than anything else, backing its opponents tactically in the run-off, even if they were not from the political camp they usually support.

However, National Rally leader Ms Le Pen, who is expected to make a fourth run for the French presidency in 2027, said the elections laid the groundwork for “the victory of tomorrow”.

Racism and antisemitism marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian disinformation efforts. More than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked.

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

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal offered his resignation (AP) (AP)

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