The far-right has surged to the lead in France’s elections. But forming a government remains a tall order


Exit polls after the first round of the French legislative elections indicate the far-right National Rally party leading with about 34% of the vote. The New Popular Front (a coalition of parties from the far left to the moderate left) was in second with about 28% and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist coalition was a distant third with about 20%.

This is by far the largest amount of votes the far right has received in legislative elections since the second world war.

Although the National Rally was ahead after the first round, however, alliances are likely to coalesce between the leftist, centrist and moderate right political parties this week to form a united front against far-right candidates in most electorates in the second round of voting.

This would likely make it very difficult for National Rally leader Marine Le Pen and president Jordan Bardella to secure enough seats in the National Assembly next Sunday to win an absolute majority.

This second – and most crucial – round of the snap elections will determine whether France has a far-right government, a hard-left government, or a government of moderates united against extreme factions at both ends of the political spectrum.

Although the third solution appears more plausible than the other two, it still may not guarantee political stability. Diverse coalitions don’t have a strong track record of stable government in France.

A demonstrator holds up a sign reading ‘Era of hate, that’s enough’ during a rally of the New Popular Front in Paris.
Julien Mattia/EPA

What happens now?

Although the National Rally was leading after the first round, it is unlikely to be able to form a government on its own. The reason: its capacity to attract more voters in the coming days is limited. This has been a recurrent issue for the far right at the second round in past elections.

Only 67% of French voters cast their ballot on June 30. Although this is high for turnout in the first round of a legislative election in the past two decades, it also means that millions of French people could yet tip the balance one way or another in their electorates next Sunday.

Given France’s traumatic experience of the second world war and the collaboration of its far-right Vichy government with the Nazis, some French people who did not vote in the first round may well head to polling booths next Sunday to prevent the far right from winning.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for demonstrations against the far right on Sunday, suggesting a highly mobilised electorate.

Thousands rally at Place de la Republique in Paris against the far right.
Thousands rally at Place de la Republique in Paris against the far right National Rally party.
Louise Delmotte/AP

More importantly, leftist, centrist and moderate right political parties will likely attempt to forge alliances at the local level to prevent the election of far-right MPs.

This is how it would work. If no candidate receives an absolute majority in a race, the candidates with the two highest shares of the vote progress to the second round, along with anyone else who has received at least 12.5% of the vote.

So, the leaders of the New Popular Front alliance and Macron’s alliance will now urge their candidates to pull out of races where they placed third, so they can coalesce behind one candidate against the far right.

The leaders of these parties still have strong divisions, but as Raphaël Glucksmann, the head of the center-left socialists, said:

We must unite, we must vote for our democracy, we must prevent France from sinking.

Along with Gluncksmann, politicians as diverse as Marine Tondelier (the Greens), former PM Edouard Philippe (moderate right), François Bayrou (centre), current Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (from Macron’s own party) and many others called for the creation of a “Republican Front” to defeat the National Rally within a hour of the first-round exit polls being made public.

While this strategy was successful in previous elections against the far right – and may work once again – it does not necessarily mean France will end up with a strong and united government when it is all over.

Eurasia Group, a risk analysis firm, has said National Rally is unlikely to win an outright majority in the National Assembly. The group’s managing director, Mujtaba Rahman, said this means France is heading for:

deadlock and confusion with an irreconcilably blocked National Assembly.

The coming days are going to be extraordinary for French politics as alliances will be made (and perhaps some broken). The French people, meanwhile, will hold their breath and ponder what all of this means for the future of their country.

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