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Here are key takeaways from France's election round 1, where the far right prevails

Supporters of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen react after vote projections in select constituencies, Sunday, in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. French voters propelled the far-right National Rally to a strong lead in first-round legislative elections Sunday and plunged the country into political uncertainty.
Thibault Camus
/
AP
Supporters of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen react after vote projections in select constituencies, Sunday, in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. French voters propelled the far-right National Rally to a strong lead in first-round legislative elections Sunday and plunged the country into political uncertainty.

BERLIN — It’s one of the most high-stakes two-round votes in the history of postwar France.

At stake is whether Marine Le Pen's National Rally party will gain an absolute majority in the National Assembly — potentially putting the far right in French government for the first time since the Vichy regime collaborated with the Nazis in World War II.

The results from the first round on Sunday were as follows:

  • The National Rally earned 33.15%, about a third of the vote.
  • The New Popular Front — an alliance of center-left Socialists, greens and far-left parties — placed second with 28.14%.
  • President Emmanuel Macron's centrist alliance placed third with 20.76%.
  • Voter turnout was high at 59.39%, as of the official count at 5 p.m. Sunday.


Next comes the second round on July 7. Here are some things to watch.

National Rally eyes prime minister

In the upcoming second round, pollsters project that the National Rally could be within striking distance of obtaining a majority in France's 577-seat National Assembly. If it does, Le Pen wants the party's 28-year-old president, Jordan Bardella, to become prime minister.

Speaking to cameras after first-round results came in Sunday evening, Bardella pledged to be "the prime minister for all the people of France ... respectful of opposition, open to dialogue and concerned at all times with the unity of the people.”

The party knows it needs to persuade voters to come to its side for the runoff.

Yet there is still a chance that no party wins a majority in the National Assembly — known as a hung parliament. And Macron could then call for another election next year.

President Macron shocked much of France and the world by dissolving parliament and calling what's known as a snap election after the National Rally came first in June 9 elections for France's seats in European Parliament. He said he wanted to give the French a chance "to say no to extremes."

But then came a problem. In the frantic round one of the legislative election, the voters appear to have said "yes."

Voters said yes to two extremes

It isn't just the National Rally that beat Macron. The second-place left-wing New Popular Front has also worried some voters. It includes the France Unbowed party led by firebrand former journalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose sharp criticism of Israel over the war in Gaza has caused some Jewish and other voters to say they voted for Le Pen's party instead — a remarkable shift for the National Rally once notorious for its founder's antisemitic convictions.

The complicated nature of this particular two-round election comes from the high turnout. Because of the rules deciding how candidates qualify for the second round, there is a significant number of races this election involving three, even four candidates: more than 300, in fact.

That makes it possible for parties that placed second and third in round one — like that left-wing coalition and Macron’s own Ensemble alliance — to strike deals with each other, have one candidate step aside and call on their voters to cast a ballot for the other allied party.

So the coming days will see many local duels as opponents of the National Rally try to strike deals and keep Le Pen’s party out of power.

"Our objective is clear: stopping the National Rally from having an absolute majority in the second round, from dominating the National Assembly and from governing the country with its disastrous project," French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on social media.

Other countries are watching very closely

Meanwhile, other countries are watching events in France — many with alarm, though some who support nationalist populists are encouraged by the result.

The Belgian Le Soir newspaper slams Macron as "a president who, far from protecting his country against the far right for good, has legitimized it by abandoning the ballot box to it." German newsmagazine Der Spiegel asks: “Why is Emmanuel Macron handing the country over to the far right?”

In Ukraine, the most-read article in Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper was a news item on the election, which ends on a note of concern: “The National Rally’s position on the Russian-Ukrainian war remains unknown. While the party currently claims it will assist Ukraine in defending itself against Russian forces, it has also established red lines, such as not giving Ukraine long-range weaponry.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Nick Spicer
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