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Far-Right National Front Falls Short In Elections, But France Remains Polarized

Supporters of the French left-wing alliance react to early results in the French parliamentary elections in Paris on July 7.
Supporters of the French left-wing alliance react to early results in the French parliamentary elections in Paris on July 7.

The National Rally (RN) failed not only to secure an outright majority in the second round of parliamentary voting in France on July 7 but finished third, contrary to predictions that the far-right party was on the cusp of snatching power, given its strong showing in the first round of voting.

However, the pendulum has swung to the other end of the political spectrum, with the leftist alliance New Popular Front (NFP) emerging as the single strongest force but falling far short of securing a parliamentary majority.

If the results are confirmed, it would likely lead to a hung parliament, underscoring just how polarized French society is. France is now navigating uncharted territory, analysts say.

'No One Saw This One Coming'

The NFP is expected to win the most seats, between 172 and 198. President Emmanuel Macron's centrist bloc, Ensemble, is predicted to finish second with between 152 to 169 seats, followed by RN in third on an estimated 143 seats.

"It’s fair to say no one saw this one coming," RFE/RL's Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak said.

After RN emerged from the first round of voting as the leading party, centrist and leftist parties agreed to withdraw 221 candidates, including 83 from Macron's political group and 132 from the NPF, in order to avoid three-way runoffs.

The two rounds of the French elections have a different purpose, says Jacques Rupnik, director of research at CERI (the Center for International Studies and Research) at Sciences-Po in Paris.

"In the first round, you vote for the candidate you prefer. But in the second round, you vote not necessarily for, but mainly against who you don't want to get into parliament," Rupnik told RFE/RL.

Stopping the National Rally was the highest priority for many voters and that explains the momentum that was created between the two rounds.

Will New Prime Minister Be From The Left?

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the firebrand leader of the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) and head of the NFP coalition, has demanded that the left be given the chance to form a government.

Indeed, convention suggests that Macron should invite a politician from the largest grouping to take on the role.

Gabriel Attal, the current prime minister, has said that he will tender his resignation, but he opened the door to heading a caretaker government during the Paris Olympic Games, which begin on July 26.

Macron will probably explore all options before eventually nominating a prime minister from the leftist coalition. One option is to try to split the leftist alliance, which is fractured and banded together only after Macron called the snap elections.

The NFP brings together the previously deeply divided Socialists, greens, communists, and the hard-left France Unbowed in one camp.

Another option would be "a government of experts" not linked to political parties. However, it would still need the endorsement of a majority in the National Assembly.

Rupnik says that the left would likely not favor a so-called government of experts, insisting they won the election and are eager to move forward on their program.

"The left-wing program is totally unimplementable because it promises so many things that don't have the slightest chance to be implemented. The coffers are empty," Rupnik added.

While the loss of the far right provides may be a relief to investors, they are also probably not relieved with the left set to enter government with economic plans that could unwind many of Macron's pro-market reforms.

'Macron Weakened But Not Out'

Macron will be attending the upcoming landmark NATO summit in Washington as a weakened figure, and France has been left without a stable ruling majority less than three weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

"I would say Macron is weakened, he is down, but not out," said Rupnik adding that despite the domestic instability, foreign policy should remain stable.

There are some caveats if the leftist alliance will be a part of the government. Namely, the NFP is divided over some foreign policy issues like the Melenchon party's refusal to declare Hamas a terrorist group.

End Of the National Rally?

Le Pen, who plans to launch a fourth bid for the presidency in 2027, claimed that "the tide is rising" and the National Rally's victory had only been "delayed".

If no party is able to cobble together a viable government, according to the country's constitution, early elections could be called for a year from now. The National Rally, as the strongest opposition grouping in parliament, could utilize the political disarray to build support for the next elections.

When it comes to the presidential elections in 2027, Macron won't be eligible to run and has yet to groom a successor. So, the question is who might challenge Marine Le Pen?

"There is a big sigh of relief for now. But the problem doesn't go away," Rupnik said.

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    Dragan Stavljanin

    Dragan Stavljanin is the foreign affairs editor of RFE/RL's Balkan Service. He has published numerous articles and written two books, The Cold Peace: The Caucasus And Kosovo and The Balkanization Of The Internet And The 'Death' Of The Journalist.

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