France votes in second round of parliamentary polls as far right eyes power

Opinion polls have forecast the far-right National Rally will win the most votes but likely fall short of a majority.

A voter takes ballots from a stack displayed on tables in the second round of the early French parliamentary elections, at a polling station in Paris, France, July 7, 2024. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
Sunday's parliamentary run-off could leave France with its first far-right government since the Nazi occupation in World War II if the National Rally wins, and its 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella becomes prime minister [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

French voters are casting ballots in parliamentary run-off election, which will be decisive in determining its political future that might see the far right become the largest bloc in parliament for the first time.

Voting began at 8am (06:00 GMT) on Sunday and will close between 6pm (16:00 GMT) in rural areas and 8pm (18:00 GMT) in big cities. About 30,000 police, including 5,000 in Paris, were deployed across the country ahead of the voting.

As of midday on Sunday, some 26.63 percent of voters had turned out for the second round of voting, up on the first round and the highest figure since 1981.

The elections could lead to France getting its first far-right government since the Nazi occupation during World War II if the National Rally wins, and its 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella becomes prime minister.

The party came out on top in the previous week’s first-round voting, followed by a coalition of centre-left, hard-left and Green parties. President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance came in third place.

“More than 200 centrist and left-wing candidates have pulled out of their races to give other challengers a better chance to beat the far right. It’s what they call in France a republican front,” Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Paris, said.

“We will see today how successful this republican front will be. That’s the main question.”

Macron called the snap elections three years in advance after his political alliance was trounced in June’s European Parliament elections, a gamble which many observers believe backfired.

Many in France remain baffled over why Macron called an election he was under no obligation to hold that could end with the RN doubling its presence in parliament and his contingent of centrist MPs halving in number.

Possibility of a hung parliament

But the president, known for his penchant for theatrical gestures, appears intent on executing what he calls a “clarification” of French politics that he hopes will eventually leave three clear camps of the far right, centre and the hard left.

The New Popular Front (NFP), an alliance of left-wing parties led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, is projected to be in the second position, with Macron’s Ensemble (Together) alliance forecast to finish third.

Opinion polls have forecast a victory for RN and its allies. To secure an outright majority, the far right needs to win 289 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. It is still unclear if it can reach that threshold, but it is still predicted to become the largest party in parliament.

Another possibility after Sunday’s polls is that no party wins a clear majority, resulting in a hung parliament. That could prompt Macron to pursue coalition negotiations with the centre-left or name a government with no political affiliations. The left bloc opposes Macron’s pro-business policies.

Regardless of what happens, however, Macron said, he would not step down and will stay president until his term ends in 2027.

Initial polling projections are expected on Sunday night, with early official results likely late Sunday or early Monday.

Racism, anti-Semitism mar campaign

More than 49 million people are registered to vote in the elections, which will determine which party controls the National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament.

Racism and anti-Semitism have marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian cyber-campaigns, and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked – highly unusual for France.

The heightened tensions come while France is celebrating a very special summer: Paris is about to host the Olympic Games, the national football team reached the semifinal of the Euro 2024 championship, and the Tour de France is racing around the country alongside the Olympic torch.

Voters residing in the Americas and France’s overseas territories of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana and French Polynesia voted on Saturday.

A man walks past election posters of the Nouveau Front Populaire
Centrist President Emmanuel Macron called the snap elections three years in advance after his political alliance was trounced in June’s European Parliament elections [Emmanuel Dunand/AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies