France flirts with the far right in today’s parliamentary election

Marine Le Pen's National Rally looks set for the first far-right win since World War II, when the Vichy regime collaborated with the Nazis

With Marine Le Pen steering, will France become a country for old men again? (photo: @MLP_officiel/X)
With Marine Le Pen steering, will France become a country for old men again? (photo: @MLP_officiel/X)

Uttam Sengupta

“Can I apply to India for asylum two weeks from now?” asks Patrick, with a gesture of mock horror.

It was meant as a joke, but as France prepares to vote today (Sunday, 30 June, from 8:00 a.m. local time/ 11:30 a.m. IST) in its second parliamentary election in just two years, many in Paris are clearly uneasy.

Opinion polls, said to have been pretty accurate in the past, point to the National Rally (RN), the far-right alliance, emerging not only as the largest party in the 577-member lower house of parliament but possibly actually securing an absolute majority (which requires it to win 289 seats). It had just 88 seats in the outgoing parliament.

Patrick (full name withheld) is not an immigrant himself and has little to worry about if the regime changes as predicted, hailing as he does from the French aristocracy. He does not, however, hide his shock at the surge of support for the far-right. “Everybody I have known all my life has voted for either the traditional right or the centrist parties. Now suddenly I find everybody talking about giving the far right a chance! Have they all gone mad, I wonder!” he exclaims during a chat at a café.

Part of the shock stems from Macron’s gamble in calling for a snap poll. Nobody, least of all Macron’s own MPs, was prepared for it.

Of course, Macron’s own position remains relatively secure, whatever be the result, and he can on paper remain President for the rest of his term, ending 2027. As president, he retains the power to appoint the prime minister. But if the RN gets an absolute majority, he will have no choice but to appoint the party’s nominee.

However, if the RN fails to secure an absolute majority, Macron will have room to hold backroom negotiations. In any case, as president, he will continue to preside over cabinet meetings and influence both foreign policy and security issues — the French military reports to the president, and not to the prime minister.

Macron, however, was having a tough time with his centrist Ensemble alliance not having a majority in the lower house and having to negotiate with the right to obtain the support of 40–50 of their MPs to get his policies and legislation approved.

With the French economy in bad shape, he was possibly worried that he might struggle to get next year’s budget passed this September. If he had lost that vote, the centrist government would have fallen.

Still the declaration of the snap mid-term poll, barely two years after the last one in 2022, angered many.

If Macron wanted to catch his political opponents, especially the Left, by surprise, it appears to have had the opposite effect. The far-right RN has cashed in on the momentum from its victory in the European Parliament election, consolidating its position further. Macron’s own centrist Ensemble alliance, all opinion polls have consistently held, has been trailing behind both RN and the hurriedly cobbled-together Left alliance, the New Popular Front.

The last opinion polls on Friday, 28 June, before Sunday’s polling placed RN in sight of polling 37 per cent of the votes, followed by the Left Popular Front with 29 per cent and Macron’s Ensemble alliance trailing in third position and projected to secure 20 per cent of the votes. The last televised debate among prime ministerial candidates on Friday, people believe, has not helped any alliance to significantly improve their position.

The French Constitution allows a minimum of three weeks for campaigning after the announcement of the election and a maximum of six weeks.

However, with the Bastille Day, a national holiday, falling on 14 July this year and the summer Olympic games scheduled to begin later in the month, Macron settled for three weeks for the election campaign, during which the parties had to finalise their candidates, forge alliances and get their campaign off the ground.

It left the divided Left at a disadvantage and, although they managed to forge an alliance, there was no agreement on their presumptive prime ministerial candidate, leaving the televised debates to be dominated by outgoing prime minister Gabriel Atall and the 28-year-old Jordan Bardella of the far right, a protégé of Marine Le Pen with no political or administrative experience himself. Le Pen herself is aiming for the presidency in 2027.

The first round of polling today (30 June) is not expected to be decisive, however, with the French Constitution requiring both winning candidates and the winning political party to secure 50 per cent of the votes actually polled and 25 per cent of the registered voters to win in the first round itself.

With multiple candidates contesting for each seat and with three- and four-cornered contests almost everywhere, the final result is expected to be known only after the second round of polling on 7 July.

The first round of polling today, however, will point to the likely outcome, and results are expected to start coming in from 10 p.m. IST or so. All results should be in by early Monday morning (1 July).

A high turn-out is expected today, 60–65 per cent as opposed to the 48 per cent of 2022 and the 49 per cent in the recently concluded European parliamentary election.

However, with 95 per cent of the voters telling pollsters that their mind is already made up, the number of floating or undecided voters appears to be small and may not be in a position to affect the outcome.

Meanwhile, as Patrick jokes, the only good thing about the RN is that they seem to be flexible on everything, ready to change their position at the drop of a hat.

The party was clearly not prepared to get a shot at forming the government so soon, and has been shifting its stand on various issues.

The presumptive prime ministerial nominee, Bardella, famously promised that once in government, he would abolish income tax for all French citizens below the age of 30.

The party is, of course, Euro-sceptic and anti-immigrant, promising to restrict social welfare to French citizens and debarring citizens with dual nationality, many of them second- or third-generation immigrants, from ‘sensitive and strategic’ jobs. Citizens with dual nationality in France are estimated to constitute 5 per cent of the population.

Bardella has also promised a rather vague "government of national unity" made up of "sincere patriots who have France’s sovereignty at heart".

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