French election: far-right government blocked as Le Pen’s alliance pushed into third place

And so it did not come to pass. For all the expectation – and yes, fear among some in France and around the world – the far-right has failed in its bid to gain a majority in the French National Assembly (the lower house of France’s parliament).

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) and its allies came top in the first round of voting in France’s hastily called legislative election. But in the second round, the party simply could not break through the so-called “republican front”, the practice of candidates withdrawing to avoid splitting the vote against the far right. And so RN has failed to produce the first far-right government in France since the second world war.

Instead, the New Popular Front of left-wing and green parties looked set to win the highest number of seats with 182. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance came second with 168 seats. RN and its allies have been pushed into third place overall with 143 seats.

With 289 seats required for an overall majority, it is likely that Macron will look to make an alliance with the left-wing group to govern as a broad coalition. The prime minister, Gabriel Attal, has said he will tender his resignation, but is expected to remain in post while negotiations take place over the formation of a new government.

This was a poor result for the RN. It raises more questions than it gives answers ahead of the 2027 presidential elections, in which Le Pen will once again feature as a candidate.

Media speculation that Le Pen would lead a populist far-right government into power in France has proved to be wide of the mark. The electorate has opted in more significant numbers than expected to go with a centrist or left-wing candidate where these appeared on the ballot paper against the RN.

There is nonetheless much to digest from these results. First, France’s two-round voting system has proved yet again that it is difficult for parties on the extremes to take power at any meaningful level.

The European elections use a one-off vote in a system of proportional representation. But the French two-round system forces the electorate to face a hard choice in the second round: back a party on the extremes or a more moderate candidate.

Second, that fabled French republican front seems to have been rekindled once the threat of the RN taking power became palpable. This is a broad coalition and it no doubt surprised the RN’s leadership – just as it seems to have surprised Macron – how quickly the left and centre could put aside major differences on a range of issues to throw together a set of candidates willing to withdraw where necessary.

The moderate Socialist party was once the party of government but is now a shell of its former self since the end of the François Hollande presidency in 2017. That it could enter into coalition with the far-left France Unbowed – La France Insoumise (LFI) – suggests a willingness to work together when it matters that may have implications for future elections.

Third, this was a far better result for Macron and his movement than anticipated ahead of the vote. The Ensemble alliance seemed on the brink of oblivion. Instead, second place is a good outcome under the circumstances. It may well enable Macron and his allies to work with the left in order to provide any future centrist candidate in 2027 with a strong track record in government.

Fourth, the centre-right Republican party now seems largely irrelevant. Its controversial leader, Éric Ciotti, claimed that it was primed to play the “kingmaker” role in the event the RN fell just short of the 289 seats required for the majority. But this now seems to have been overly optimistic.

Ciotti was the subject of widespread derision within his party for claiming that he had entered into an electoral pact with Le Pen. The party will likely be beset with infighting and ill-discipline over the next few years. With between 60 and 70 seats in the National Assembly, the centre-right may find itself largely sidelined.

Far-right failure

And what of the RN? Clearly these are disappointing results for Marine Le Pen and her lieutenant, Jordan Bardella. Bardella had made clear he would not take power unless his party obtained an overall majority and will instead seek to be forensic in opposition to the centre-left coalition. The RN is nonetheless deprived of a chance to demonstrate competence at national level.

This situation is a double-edged sword for both Le Pen and Bardella. On the one hand, Le Pen can enter into the 2027 presidential election untarnished by any record of government. On the other, this continued lack of experience may well count against her if she was to run off against a candidate from within the coalition government.

The recriminations of the campaign will no doubt continue in the coming days. For the left, though, this looks to have been an unexpectedly excellent evening. And for the far-right, one of missed opportunities.

This article has been updated to reflect the confirmed number of seats won by each party.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation
The Conversation

David Lees does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.