Far right wins in first round of French elections

Exit polls suggest far-right RN took about 34 percent of votes; President Macron’s centrist alliance slumped to third with 20.3 percent vote.

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, the French far right leader, has brought her National Rally party closer to power than it has ever been [Yves Herman/Reuters]

France’s far-right National Rally (RN) party has won a resounding victory in the first round of the country’s snap parliamentary elections.

Marine Le Pen’s RN and allies took about 33 percent of the vote, according to official results released by the Ministry of Interior. The left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition finished next with about 28 percent, and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance could manage about 20 percent votes.

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The result puts RN in a position where it may start hoping about forming a government. However, forces across the rest of the political spectrum have suggested that they will cooperate to block the far-right party in the second round vote on July 7.

Macron stunned the country by calling the snap election after the RN surged in European Parliament elections last month, gambling that the anti-immigration party with historical links to anti-Semitism would not repeat that success at the national level.

In party leader Le Pen’s Henin-Beaumont constituency in northern France, supporters waved French flags and sang La Marseillaise, the national anthem.

“The French have shown their willingness to turn the page on a contemptuous and corrosive power,” she told the cheering crowd.

RN president Jordan Bardella, Le Pen’s protege and candidate for prime minister, pointed out that the second round would be “the most important in the history of the French Fifth Republic”.

He said Macron’s party has been wiped out and accused the far left of creating an “existential crisis” representing “a real danger to France and all the French people”.

In Sunday’s voting, 78 of the National Assembly’s 577 seats were won outright, by candidates who got more than 50 percent of the vote in their district, according to French newspaper Liberation’s analysis of the Interior Ministry data. Of those, 38 were from the National Rally, including Le Pen herself.

Earlier, based on an exit poll, pollster Elabe projected the RN and its allies to win 260-310 parliament seats in the second voting round on July 7, while Ipsos projected a range of 230-280 seats for RN and its allies in a poll for France TV.

Le Pen and Bardella have said their party is chasing an absolute majority – a total of 289 seats – in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

Macron calls for ‘broad democratic alliance’

The RN’s chances of winning power and forming a government depend on political dealmaking by its rivals over the coming days. In the past, centre-right and centre-left parties have worked together to keep the far right from power.

Macron called for a “broad” democratic alliance against the far right.

“Faced with National Rally, the time has come for a broad, clearly democratic and republican alliance for the second round,” he said in a statement.

He added that the high turnout in the first round spoke of “the importance of this vote for all our compatriots and the desire to clarify the political situation”.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal warned that the far right was at “the gates of power”, and that “no vote should go to the National Rally”.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, who leads the left-wing New Popular Front, said he would withdraw candidates who placed third in the first round of parliamentary elections to ensure two-horse races to defeat the highest number of far-right RN candidates in the coming vote.

A protester in Lyon holds up a placard reading 'Everyone against the RN'. There are people walking behind her.
A woman joins a protest against the RN in Lyon. Rallies against the far right also took place in other big cities [Jeff Pachoud/AFP]

When no candidate reaches 50 percent in the first round, the top two contenders automatically qualify for the second round, as well as all those with 12.5 percent of registered voters. In the run-off, whoever wins the most votes takes the constituency.

“In line with our principles and our stances in all previous elections, we will never allow the National Rally to achieve victory,” said Melenchon.

Laurent Berger, the former secretary-general of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour and current president of the European Trade Union Confederation, urged for a “blockade” in a post on X.

“This evening, our democracy and our republican values ​​are at stake in the face of the National Rally on the threshold of power,” Berger said.

“In the face of danger … It is imperative to block the extreme right.”

High turnout

The turnout for the election was nearly 68 percent, the highest since 1997.

For years, the RN was a political pariah in France, but Le Pen has sought to rebrand the party since taking control from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and has now brought it closer to power than it has ever been.

A rally in support of the left wing New Popular Front - NFP and against the RN in Paris. People are waving NFP flags and banners
People show their support for the New Popular Front as they gather in the Place de la Republique to protest against the far-right RN [Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters]

According to Rim-Sarah Alouane, an academic at Toulouse Capitole University, Le Pen “has done plastic surgery to her party”.

“But is it still the same rotten, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-minorities party … we know what the far right is standing for,” Alouane told Al Jazeera.

She said the results of this vote were also a rejection of Macron’s policies, with the president seen as “haughty” and pandering to the wealthy.

“I know personally about cases of people who voted for the far right because of the policies made by Macron, especially at an economic level,” Alouane said.

The results prompted protests in the streets of Paris, Lyon, Nantes and other big cities.

A few thousand anti-RN protesters gathered at a rally of the left-wing alliance on Sunday night in Paris’s Place de la Republique.

Najiya Khaldi, a 33-year-old teacher, said she felt “disgust, sadness and fear” at the RN’s strong results.

“I am not used to demonstrating,” she said. “I think I came to reassure myself to not feel alone.”

If the RN manages to secure an absolute majority in the second round, critics fear, it would create a tense period of “cohabitation” – a situation when the president is from a party different from that of the majority of MPs – with Macron, who has pledged to serve out his term until 2027.

An alternative outcome could see protracted negotiations to form a sustainable government.

Risk analysis firm Eurasia Group said the RN now looked “likely” to fall short of an absolute majority. France was facing “at least 12 months with a rancorously blocked National Assembly and – at best – a technocratic government of ‘national unity’ with limited capacity to govern”, it added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies