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France begins campaigning for snap polls

Macron's alliance faces test as survey shows no party likely to secure majority

By MOHAMMAD ARIF ULLAH in Paris | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-18 09:34
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National Rally's Marine Le Pen (left) and France's President Emmanuel Macron (right). [Photo/Agencies]

French President Emmanuel Macron caught the nation off guard when he dissolved the National Assembly following his party's weak performance in the European elections, in which it trailed far behind the National Rally, or RN.

"I trust the French people to choose wisely now, allowing us to face the challenges ahead," he said on national television on June 9.

Macron's centrist alliance holds approximately 250 seats, while Marine Le Pen's far-right RN has 88, and the left commands 149 seats across various parties in the 577-seat National Assembly, or the lower house of the French parliament.

In the French system, the president appoints the prime minister, who must be able to form a government that can survive no-confidence votes in the National Assembly, often necessitating alignment with the majority party or coalition.

Candidates had until Sunday evening to register for the 577 seats in the National Assembly ahead of the official start of campaigning from midnight for the June 30 first round. The decisive second round takes place on July 7.

Macron's decision has taken both France and the rest of Europe by surprise, but it makes sense, said Yves Sintomer, a political science professor at Paris 8 University.

"It's logical, given that, unlike Germany's frequent grand coalitions, Macron has struggled to pass legislation without forming similar alliances, which are rare in French politics," Sintomer said. "The recent (EU) results further weakened his position, reinforcing his decision."

Sintomer said Macron acted independently, excluding input from key allies such as Edouard Philippe, president of the Horizons Party, and Francois Bayrou, head of the Democratic Movement party. Despite Macron's efforts to secure a legislative majority, there is the risk of the RN winning a majority in the upcoming elections.

Footballer Kylian Mbappe, representing France at the Euro 2024 tournament in Germany, said he was "against extremes and divisive ideas "and urged young people to vote at a "crucial moment" in French history.

Ahead of the poll, speculation suggests the outcome might resemble that of the European Parliament elections.

"The outcome could be similar to the European elections, but it's still too early for solid predictions as these are different types of elections," Sintomer said, adding that the most likely scenario is a parliament dominated by the RN.

"Another possible scenario is a Parliament without a clear majority, leading to ungovernability, with three roughly equal groups: centrists, right and far right, and left. A third less likely scenario is the left becoming the majority," he said.

On Friday, RN leader Jordan Bardella stated on French TV channel BFM that if he becomes prime minister, immigration and border control will be one of his top priorities.

But former president Nicolas Sarkozy has questioned the wisdom of backing Bardella as prime minister.

Bardella has "never been in charge of anything", Sarkozy told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. "Can you lead France when you are so young and inexperienced?"

The conservative party of France, the Republicans, or LR, is in turmoil. Eric Ciotti, its leader, was expelled for suggesting an alliance with the far-right RN, but a Paris court overturned the expulsion on Friday, causing controversy and division within the party.

Some members are considering aligning with Macron, while Ciotti continues to support a partnership with RN. Others plan to contest the elections independently under the party banner.

Challenges ahead

Damien Bol, a professor of political behavior at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po Paris, commented that Ciotti's move aims to protect LR seats amid electoral challenges by aligning with RN to avoid extinction. However, Bol noted that not all MPs will support this alliance, and some may choose to run independently.

The left and greens have united under the "New Popular Front", a significant development in French politics. The broad left-wing electoral alliance of six parties agreed to field single candidates in every constituency for the snap elections.

Former French Socialist president Francois Hollande made a surprise announcement on Saturday, declaring that he will run for Parliament again. "This is an exceptional decision for an exceptional situation," he told reporters.

A poll by an independent opinion research group for Cluster 17, as reported by the French daily Le Point on Friday, showed a major political shift, with no party likely to secure a National Assembly majority. Macron's alliance is projected to win 18 percent in the first round, behind the New Popular Front at 28.5 percent and the National Rally at 29.5 percent.

Agencies contributed to this story.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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