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France election: What happened and what comes next?


Sunday night brought joy: French voters once again kept the far right out of power. Monday morning brought uncertainty: a parliament without an absolute majority, fragile alliances and the threat of turbulent years to come.

French President Emmanuel Macron called early parliamentary elections to “clarify” the political situation. But after the surprising second-round results, the situation is murkier than it has been in decades.

With a wave of support for the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition derailing Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party, French politics is now messier than it was before the vote.

So what did we learn last night, who could be the next French Prime Minister, and did Macron’s gamble “pay off”?

After leading the first round of voting last Sunday, the RN was closer than ever to the gates of power and was on the verge of forming France’s first far-right government since the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War II.

But after a week of political horse-trading, in which more than 200 left-wing and centrist candidates withdrew from the second round to avoid a split vote, the NFP – an umbrella group of parties ranging from the far left to the most moderate – emerged with the most seats in the decisive runoff.

The NFP won 182 seats in the National Assembly, making it the largest group in the 577-seat parliament. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble, which was a distant third in the first round, made a strong comeback to win 163 seats. And the RN and its allies, despite leading in the first round, won 143 seats.

Does this mean the NFP “won” the election? Not quite. Although the coalition won the most seats, it fell far short of the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, meaning France now has a parliament without an absolute majority. If this was a victory for anything, it was for the “cordon sanitaire,” the principle that traditional parties must unite to prevent the far right from taking power.

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It was supposed to be a coronation. Crowds of supporters packed into the RN party’s meeting rooms in Paris and its branches across the country to witness a moment many thought had been decades in the making: confirmation that their party, with its long-taboo anti-immigrant policies, had won the largest number of seats in the French parliament.

But things were not that simple. The mood turned sour as supporters saw the RN fall back to third place. Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old leader chosen by Le Pen to rehabilitate the party’s image and purge it of its racist and anti-Semitic roots, was dyspeptic. He denounced the “dangerous electoral agreements” concluded between the NFP and Ensemble that had “deprived the French people” of a government led by the RN.

“By deciding to deliberately paralyze our institutions, Emmanuel Macron has now pushed the country towards uncertainty and instability,” Bardella said, calling the NFP an “alliance of dishonor.”

Kevin Coombs/Reuters

It is a disappointed Jordan Bardella who speaks during an election evening at the RN headquarters in Paris.

The RN’s success should not be underestimated, however. In the 2017 election, when Macron came to power, the RN won just eight seats. In 2022, it has climbed to 89 seats. In Sunday’s vote, it won 125, making it the largest single party. This unity means it will likely remain a powerful force in the next parliament, while the strength of the left-wing coalition remains to be tested.

Will the left remain united?

A month ago, the NFP did not exist. Today, it is the largest parliamentary bloc in France and could provide France with its next prime minister. He chose his name in an attempt to resurrect the original Popular Front that prevented the far right from taking power in 1936. Sunday’s results show that he has succeeded once again.

But while it has achieved its founding goal, it is not clear that this broad – and potentially divisive – coalition can hold. The hastily assembled bloc includes several parties: the far-left La France Insoumise party; the Socialists; the Greens; the center-left Place Publique party and others.

This multi-headed hydra does not speak with one voice. Each party celebrated the results at its own campaign events, rather than together. Two of its most prominent figures – Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the populist leader of La France Insoumise, and Raphaël Glucksmann, the more moderate leader of Place Publique – hardly speak to each other.

Disagreements over economic and foreign policies could spill over, as the NFP’s expansive spending plans – which include raising the minimum wage, capping the price of some food and energy and scrapping Macron’s pension reforms – clash with tight European Union budget rules and France’s need to rein in its growing deficit.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Crowds of mostly young people gathered at Place de la République in Paris to celebrate the fight against the far right.

Macron once said his ideas were “too complex” for journalists. Yet his decision to call snap elections — three years earlier than necessary and with his party trailing badly in the polls — has baffled even the most astute political analysts, caught even his closest allies off guard, and left many French voters perplexed.

Macron called for the vote just minutes after his party lost to the RN in last month’s European elections. While the European results do not necessarily have an impact on domestic politics, Macron said he could not ignore the message voters were sending him and wanted to clarify the situation.

But Sunday’s results suggest Macron achieved the opposite effect. Édouard Philippe, a former French prime minister and Macron ally, said what was supposed to be “clarification has in fact led to a great deal of vagueness.” Although Emmanuel Macron’s party recovered after the first round, it lost about 100 seats compared to the 2022 vote.

Mohammed Badra/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by his wife Brigitte Macron, right, holds his ballot paper to vote in the second round at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France.

Emmanuel Macron’s first decision is to appoint a new prime minister. He has already delayed this process by refusing Gabriel Attal’s resignation, asking him to stay in office for now.

Typically, the French president appoints a prime minister from the largest parliamentary bloc. But it is unclear which party within the NFP that will be. Mélenchon’s party won the most seats in the NFP, but Macron’s allies have repeatedly refused to work with France Insoumise, saying it is just as extreme – and therefore just as unfit to govern – as the RN.

To secure the majority needed to pass the laws, the NFP will likely have to forge alliances with Ensemble – two coalitions that are part of an even broader coalition that straddles a vast ideological terrain. Finding common ground will be a tough task, meaning a deadlock is likely. Without a clear majority, a minority government could face no-confidence votes as early as this month, which could lead to several governments replacing each other.

One solution could be a “technocratic” government, which would involve Macron appointing ministers without political affiliation to manage day-to-day affairs. But this may seem undemocratic and further fan the flames of populism. Just look at Italy: after Mario Draghi’s term, the technocrat par excellenceThe country has elected its most far-right government since Benito Mussolini. While France has avoided a far-right government for now, the threat from the RN is likely to remain strong.

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With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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