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Far-Right Leads First Round of French Election, Final Outcome Uncertain According to Exit Polls

Photo Credit: REUTERS

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) made significant gains, emerging as the top contender in the first round of France’s parliamentary election on Sunday, according to exit polls. However, the final result hinges on days of negotiations before the upcoming runoff.

Exit polls from Ipsos, Ifop, OpinionWay, and Elabe indicated that RN secured approximately 34% of the vote, dealing a substantial blow to President Emmanuel Macron, who called for the snap election following a defeat to RN in the recent European Parliament elections.

The RN’s lead exceeded that of leftist and centrist rivals, including Macron’s Together alliance, projected to secure between 20.5% and 23%. The New Popular Front (NFP), a hastily formed left-wing coalition, was expected to garner around 29% of the vote, the exit polls revealed.

The results, in line with pre-election surveys, were greeted with enthusiasm by Le Pen’s supporters. Yet, they offered little clarity on whether the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic RN could form a governing coalition with the pro-EU Macron following next Sunday’s runoff.

Once a pariah in French politics, RN now stands closer to power than ever before. Le Pen has endeavored to reform the party’s image, previously tarnished by racism and anti-Semitism, a strategy that resonated amid voter discontent over Macron’s governance, cost of living concerns, and immigration fears.

In Le Pen’s Henin-Beaumont constituency in northern France, supporters waved French flags and sang the national anthem.

“The French have shown their readiness to turn the page on a disdainful and corrosive authority,” Le Pen told the jubilant crowd.

RN’s prospects for victory next week depend on the political maneuvering of its competitors over the next few days. In previous elections, center-right and center-left parties have united to prevent RN from assuming power, a strategy known as the “Republican front,” now less certain than ever.

If no candidate secures 50% in the first round, the top two contenders, along with all those securing 12.5% of registered voters, advance to the runoff. In the runoff, the candidate with the majority wins the constituency.

Sunday’s high turnout suggests France is heading for a record number of three-way runoffs, a scenario experts believe favors RN more than traditional two-way contests.

Negotiations among political factions commenced promptly on Sunday night.

Macron urged voters to rally behind candidates who are “clearly Republican and democratic,” implicitly excluding RN and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party from consideration.

Leaders from center-left and far-left parties called on their third-place candidates to withdraw.

“Our directive is straightforward: not one more vote for the National Rally,” stated France Unbowed’s leader.

The center-right Republicans, which experienced a split ahead of the vote with some lawmakers joining RN, did not issue a directive.

POTENTIAL PRIME MINISTER

Jordan Bardella, RN’s 28-year-old party president, expressed readiness to assume the role of Prime Minister if his party secures an absolute majority. He ruled out forming a minority government and noted that neither Macron nor the NFP leftist group would align with him.

“I will be a ‘cohabiting’ Prime Minister, respecting the constitution and the office of the President of the Republic, while remaining firm on the policies we aim to implement,” he declared.

At Paris’s Republique square, a few thousand anti-RN protesters gathered for a leftist alliance rally on Sunday night. Najiya Khaldi, a 33-year-old teacher, described feelings of “disgust, sadness, and fear” at RN’s strong performance.

“I’m not accustomed to protesting,” she said. “I think I came here to reassure myself, to avoid feeling isolated.”

Market response to Sunday’s outcome was subdued, with the euro gaining around 0.23% in early Asia-Pacific trading. Fiona Cincotta, senior markets analyst at London’s City Index, attributed relief to the absence of surprises in the results.

“Le Pen’s narrower margin compared to some polls may have helped lift the euro slightly on opening,” she remarked. “All eyes are now on July 7 to see if the second round secures an absolute majority. It feels like we’re in a state of limbo.”

COMPLEX CALCULATIONS

While RN was projected to secure the most seats in the National Assembly, only one pollster, Elabe, forecasted the party winning an absolute majority of 289 seats in the runoff.

Experts caution that seat projections after the first round can be highly inaccurate, particularly in this election.

No nationwide official results were available on Sunday evening, but they were anticipated in the hours to follow. Historically, French exit polls have proven highly accurate.

Voter turnout was notably high compared to previous parliamentary elections, underscoring the political fervor stirred by Macron’s bold and politically risky decision to call a parliamentary vote.

By 1500 GMT, turnout was nearly 60%, contrasting with 39.42% two years ago, marking the highest comparable turnout figures since the 1986 legislative vote, according to Ipsos France’s research director Mathieu Gallard. The exact official turnout figure remained pending.

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