Vote projections show French left on course to defeat far right

The National Rally are hoping to win the outright majority that would force President Emmanuel Macron to appoint RN party leader Jordan Bardella as prime minister (Bertrand GUAY)
The National Rally are hoping to win the outright majority that would force President Emmanuel Macron to appoint RN party leader Jordan Bardella as prime minister (Bertrand GUAY)

A loose alliance of French left-wing parties thrown together for snap elections was on course Sunday to become the biggest parliamentary bloc and beat the far right, according to shock projected results.

The New Popular Front (NFP) was formed last month after President Emmanuel Macron called snap elections, bringing together socialists, greens, communists and the hard-left into one camp.

Veteran presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) led the race after the June 30 first round, with opinion polls predicting that she would lead the biggest party in Parliament after Sunday's run-off.

But projections based on vote samples by four major polling agencies and seen by AFP, showed no group on course for an absolute majority, and the left-wing NFP ahead of both Macron's centrist Ensemble and Le Pen's eurosceptic, anti-immigration RN.

The left-wing group was predicted to take between 172 and 215 seats, the president's alliance on 150 to 180 and the National Rally -- which had hoped for an absolute majority -- in a surprise third place on 115 to 155 seats.

This marks a new high water mark for the far right, but falls well short of a victory that would have been a rebuke for Macron, who called the snap election in what he said was  bid to halt France's slide towards the political extremes.

Hard-left France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, giving his first reaction, called on French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to resign and said the left-wing coalition was ready to govern.

Macron will attend next week's landmark NATO summit in Washington a diminished but not defeated figure and France has been left without a stable ruling majority less than three weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

- 'So much tension' -

The election campaign, the shortest in French history, has been marked by a febrile national mood, threats and violence -- including racist abuse -- against dozens of candidates and canvassers.

Some 30,000 police have been deployed to keep order, and many voters expressed fears that rioting could erupt in some cities after the results were announced.

Turnout was nevertheless high, with left-wing and centrist candidates urging supporters to defend democratic values and the rule of law -- while the far right scented a chance to upend the established order.

By 5:00 pm (1500 GMT), according to interior ministry figures, some 61.4 percent of voters had turned out -- the most at this stage of a legislative race since 1981.

In the village of Rosheim, outside the eastern city of Strasbourg, an "anguished" 72-year-old Antoine Schrameck said he feared France would see "a turning point in the history of the republic".

And in Tourcoing, near the northeast city of Lille, 66-year-old retiree Laurence Abbad said she feared violence after the results are announced. "There's so much tension, people are going mad," she said.

An outright RN victory would have seen Macron forced into an uneasy cohabitation with prime minister Bardella for the remaining three years of his term. Even without that scenario, France is left with a hung parliament with a large eurosceptic, anti-immigration contingent.

This would have weakened France's international standing and threaten Western unity in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

EU officials, already learning to deal with far-right parties in power in Italy and the Netherlands and frustrated by Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, are watching France closely.

- Return of 'Republican Front' -

With the country on tenterhooks, last week saw more than 200 tactical-voting pacts between centre and left wing candidates in seats to attempt to prevent the RN winning an absolute majority.

This has been hailed as a return of the anti-far right "Republican Front" first summoned when Le Pen's father Jean-Marie faced Jacques Chirac in the run-off of 2002 presidential elections.

The question for France now is if this last-ditch alliance of last resort can now support a stable government, dogged by a huge RN bloc in parliament led by Le Pen herself as she prepares a 2027 presidential bid.

If no coalition emerges Prime Minister Gabriel Attal could try to lead a minority government as, under French rules, the president can not dissolve parliament again an call a fresh poll for 12 months.

"France is on the cusp of a seismic political shift," said analysts at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), warning of "legislative gridlock" that would weaken "France's voice on the European and international stage".