top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

French election yields deadlock as left surges and far right comes up short



People react to the results after the second round of the French legislative elections at Place de la Republic in Paris, on Sunday, July 7, 2024. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

By Roger Cohen


France faced a hung parliament and deep political uncertainty after the three main political groups of the left, center and right emerged from snap legislative elections Sunday with large shares of the vote but nothing approaching an absolute majority.


The preliminary results upended widespread predictions of a clear victory for the National Rally, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant party that dominated the first round of voting a week ago. Instead, the left-wing New Popular Front won 178 seats.


The centrist coalition of President Emmanuel Macron, who cast the country into turmoil a month ago by calling the election, was in second place with 150 seats. Trailing it was the National Rally and its allies, which took 142 seats.


The results were compiled by The New York Times using data from the Interior Ministry, and they confirmed earlier projections showing that no single party or bloc would win a majority.


The details of the outcome may still shift, but it is clear that, to a remarkable degree, a scramble by centrists and the left to form a “Republican front” to confront the National Rally in the second round of voting worked. Candidates across France dropped out of three-way races and called for unity against Le Pen’s party.


“The president now has the duty to call the New Popular Front to govern,” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader who is the charismatic but polarizing voice of the left-wing alliance. “We are ready.”


But France looked near ungovernable, with the Paris Olympics about to open in less than three weeks. The left surged, the National Rally added dozens of seats to its presence in the National Assembly, and Macron’s party suffered a stinging defeat, with the 250 seats held by his party and its allies in the National Assembly cut by about a third.


The result was that in the sharply divided lower house of parliament, where most legislative power resides, no governing coalition appeared immediately conceivable, with Macron’s centrists squeezed between far-right and far-left groups that detest each other and him.


Jordan Bardella, the protege of Le Pen who led the National Rally to victory in European Parliament elections and the first round of legislative voting last month, called the deals that frustrated its push for an absolute majority “an alliance of the dishonorable” and said Macron had condemned France to “uncertainty and instability.”


Even with fewer seats than predicted, the National Rally has now assumed a place in French politics that erased a postwar political landscape built around the idea that the far right’s history of overt racism and antisemitism made it unworthy of positions of power.


Le Pen has disavowed that past. But even in its rebranded form, the party’s core message remains that immigrants dilute a glorified French national identity and that tighter borders and stricter regulations are needed to keep them out or prevent them from benefiting from the French social safety net.


France rejected that vision, but voted overwhelmingly for change. It did not want more of the same. It sent a stinging message to the pro-business elites gathered around Macron, who is term-limited and must leave office in 2027.


“France is more divided than ever,” said Alain Duhamel, a prominent political scientist and author. “We have learned it was a very bad idea for Mr. Macron to dissolve parliament and call this election.”


At a time when a faltering President Joe Biden is struggling to counter the nationalist America First message of former President Donald Trump, protracted French political limbo could add to an unstable international situation. Long close to Russia, Le Pen has tried to recast herself as a guarded supporter of Ukraine, but there is no question that Moscow will welcome the National Rally’s growing influence.


The New Popular Front campaigned on a platform that would raise France’s monthly minimum wage, lower the legal retirement age to 60 from 64, reintroduce a wealth tax and freeze the price of energy and gas. Instead of cutting immigration, as the National Rally vowed, the alliance said it would make the asylum process more generous and smooth.


The platform said the alliance was supportive of Ukraine’s fight for freedom against Russia, and called for President Vladimir Putin to “answer for his crimes before international justice.”


How exactly the alliance’s economic program would be financed at a time when France faces a ballooning budget deficit, and how a pro-immigration policy would be applied in a country where it is perhaps the most sensitive issue, was unclear.


The New Popular Front, which is sharply divided between moderate socialists and the far left, did very well among young people in the first round of voting, and in the projects heavily populated by North African immigrants around major cities, including Paris.


The ardently pro-Palestinian stance of Mélenchon proved popular in these areas, even as it caused outrage when he appeared to cross a line into antisemitism, accusing Yaël Braun-Pivet, the Jewish president of the National Assembly, of “camping out in Tel Aviv to encourage the massacre.” He said of a large demonstration in November against antisemitism that “the friends of unconditional support of the massacre have their rendezvous.”


Nothing had obliged Macron to call the snap election, but he was ready to gamble he could still be a unifying figure against the extremes. In fact, he had lost the allure to do so over seven years in office. He declared left and right to be obsolete labels when he came to power in 2017. They no longer are.


Still, Macron’s centrist alliance did better than expected at the last and he lived to fight another day.


Macron now appears to have two options, excluding resignation, which he has vowed he will not contemplate.


The first is to try to build a broad coalition that might stretch from the left to what remains of moderate Gaullist conservatives, some of whom broke a taboo during the campaign by aligning with the National Rally.


This possibility seems remote. Macron has made no secret of his intense dislike for Mélenchon; the feeling is reciprocated.


The second, less ambitious option would be for Macron to try to form some sort of caretaker government to handle current business.


Macron might, for example, ask former prime ministers from parties across a centrist bloc — his own, the Socialists, the center-right Republicans — to suggest a government of technocrats or prominent personalities who could deal with a restricted agenda over the next year.


Under the constitution, at least a year must elapse before the next parliamentary election.


One area where Macron may still be able to exert considerable influence, more than if he had been forced into a “cohabitation” with Bardella as prime minister, is international and military affairs, the traditional preserve of the president in the Fifth Republic.


An ardent supporter of the 27-nation European Union, which the National Rally wants to weaken, he will no doubt pursue his push for a “Europe power” with more integrated armies, defense industries and technological research, but his clout may be lessened by domestic weakness.


Macron, once tempted by a rapprochement with Putin, has also become an outspoken supporter of Ukraine’s fight for its freedom. With the U.S. presidential election just four months away, doubts have grown over the willingness of the West to continue arming and funding Ukraine.


France, in short, faces great uncertainty, both internally and externally. It appears that a constitutional crisis cannot be ruled out over the coming months. Gabriel Attal, the outgoing centrist prime minister who offered his resignation Sunday, declared that “tonight no absolute majority can be controlled by the extremes thanks to our determination and values.”


He was claiming a small victory, but of course the center does not have any such majority either.

4 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page