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France's left-wing parties win most seats in elections; lack of majority threatens turmoil

Final results are not expected until late Sunday or early Monday in the highly volatile snap election.
Supporters of the Socialist Party in France
Posted at 2:53 PM, Jul 07, 2024

A coalition on the left that came together unexpectedly ahead of France's snap elections won the most parliamentary seats in the vote, according to polling projections Sunday. The surprise projections put President Emmanuel Macron's centrist alliance in second and the far right in third.

The lack of majority for any single alliance threatened to plunge France into political and economic turmoil. Final results are not expected until late Sunday or early Monday in the highly volatile snap election, which was called just four weeks ago in a huge gamble for Macron.

It does not appear to have paid off for the deeply unpopular president, whose alliance has lost control of parliament, according to the projections. Marine Le Pen's far-right greatly increased the number of seats it holds, meanwhile, but fell far short of expectations.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon urged Macron to invite the leftist New Popular Front coalition to form a government, given projections that put it in the lead. The alliance, he said, "is ready to govern."

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In Paris' Stalingrad square, supporters on the left cheered and applauded as projections showing the alliance ahead flashed up on a giant screen. Cries of joy also rang out in the Republique plaza in eastern Paris, with people spontaneously hugging strangers and several minutes of nonstop applause after the projections landed.
The legislative elections in this nuclear-armed nation and the major economy will influence the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy and Europe's economic stability.

The projections, if confirmed by official counts, will spell intense uncertainty for a pillar of the European Union and its second-largest economy, with no clarity about who might partner with Macron as prime minister in governing France. He faces the prospect of leading the country alongside a prime minister opposed to most of his domestic policies.

The polling projections are projections based on the actual vote count in select constituencies.

A hung parliament with no single bloc coming close to getting the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority in the National Assembly, the more powerful of France's two legislative chambers, would be unknown territory for modern France.

Unlike other countries in Europe that are more accustomed to coalition governments, France doesn't have a tradition of lawmakers from rival political camps coming together to form a working majority.

The timing of France's leap into the political unknown could hardly be worse: With the Paris Olympics opening in less than three weeks, the country will be grappling with domestic instability when the eyes of the world are upon it.

Macron stunned France, and many in his own government, by dissolving parliament after the far right surged in French voting for the European elections.

Macron argued that sending voters back to the ballot boxes would provide France with "clarification." The president was gambling that with France's fate in their hands, voters might shift from the far right and left and return to mainstream parties closer to the center -- where Macron found much of the support that won him the presidency in 2017 and again in 2022. That, he hoped, would fortify his presidency for his remaining three years in office.

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But rather than rally behind him, millions of voters on both the left and right of France's increasingly polarized political landscape seized on his surprise decision as an opportunity to vent their anger.
Already in last weekend's first round of balloting, voters massively backed candidates from the far-right National Rally, in even greater numbers than in voting for the European Parliament. The coalition of parties on the left took second and his centrist alliance was a distant third.

The sharp polarization of French politics – especially in this torrid and quick campaign – is sure to complicate any coalition-building effort. Racism and antisemitism marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian disinformation campaigns, and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked — highly unusual for France. The government said it deployed 30,000 police for Sunday's runoff vote – an indication of both the high stakes and concerns that a far-right victory, or even no clear win for any bloc, could trigger protests.

Any cobbled-together majority risks being fragile, vulnerable to no-confidence votes that could cause it to fall.

Prolonged instability could increase suggestions from his opponents that Macron should cut short his second and last term. The French Constitution prevents him from dissolving parliament again in the next 12 months, barring that as a route to possibly give France greater clarity.