Far-right National Rally party predicted to have strong lead in French election

-Credit: (Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

French voters have propelled the far-right National Rally to a strong lead in first-round legislative elections and plunged the country into political uncertainty.

That is according to polling projections.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who called the surprise elections just three weeks ago, urged voters to rally against the far right.

Projections by polling agencies suggest the National Rally stands a good chance of winning a majority in the lower house of parliament for the first time, with an estimated one-third of the first-round vote.

That is nearly double their 18% in the first round in 2022.

The party is building on its success in European elections that prompted Mr Macron to dissolve parliament and call the surprise vote.

The second round will be decisive but leaves open huge questions on how Mr Macron will share power with a prime minister who is hostile to most of his policies.

The two-round elections that wrap up on July 7 could impact European financial markets, Western support for Ukraine and the management of France’s nuclear arsenal and global military force.

Many French voters are frustrated about inflation and other economic concerns, as well as President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, seen as arrogant and out-of-touch with their lives.

Ms Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally party has tapped that discontent, notably via online platforms like TikTok, and led in pre-election opinion polls.

A new coalition on the left, the New Popular Front, also poses a challenge to the pro-business Mr Macron and his centrist alliance Together for the Republic.

It includes the French Socialists and Communists, the greens and the hard-left France Unbowed party and vows to reverse an unpopular pension reform law that raised the retirement age to 64, among other economic reforms.

There are 49.5 million registered voters who will choose the 577 members of the National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament.

Turnout stood at an unusually high 59% three hours before polls closed. That’s 20 percentage points higher than turnout at the same time in the last first-round vote in 2022.

Some pollsters suggested the high turnout could temper the outcome for the hard right National Rally, possibly indicating voters made an extra effort to cast ballots for fear that it could win.

The vote was taking place during the traditional first week of summer vacation in France, and absentee ballot requests were at least five times higher than in 2022.

The first polling projections emerged after final polling stations closed. Early official results were expected later on Sunday.

Mr Macron voted in Le Touquet, a seaside resort in northern France. Ms Le Pen also voted in the north, her party’s stronghold, but in the working-class town of Hennin-Beaumont.

Voters in Paris had issues from immigration to the rising cost of living on their minds as the country has grown more divided between the far right and far left blocs, with a deeply unpopular and weakened president in the political centre. The campaign was marred by rising hate speech.

Mr Macron called the early elections after his party was trounced in the European Parliament election earlier in June by the National Rally, which has historic ties to racism and antisemitism and is hostile toward France’s Muslim community. It also has historical ties to Russia.

Mr Macron’s call was an audacious gamble that French voters who were complacent about the European election would be jolted into turning out for moderate forces in national elections to keep the far right out of power.

Instead, pre-election polls suggested the National Rally had a chance at winning a parliamentary majority. In that scenario, Macron would be expected to name 28-year-old National Rally President Jordan Bardella as prime minister in an awkward power-sharing system known as “cohabitation”.

While Mr Macron has said he will not step down before his presidential term expires in 2027, cohabitation would weaken him at home and on the world stage.

The results of the first round will give a picture of voter sentiment, but not necessarily of the overall makeup of the next National Assembly. Predictions are difficult because of the complicated voting system, and because parties will work between the rounds to make alliances in some constituencies or pull out of others.

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