French far right scores big win in first round of elections, polls say

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Initial projections show the Rassemblement National party won a sweeping victory in the first round of elections for the French National Assembly, bringing the nationalist and anti-immigration party to power for the first time.

Polling projections suggest the party won about 34% of the vote, far more than President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party and its allies, who garnered around 21%. The scores do not reliably predict the number of parliamentary seats each party will secure, but the National Rally is likely to be the largest force in the lower house, though not necessarily with an overall majority.

A coalition of left-wing parties, the New Popular Front, won about 29% of the vote. Voter turnout was very high at over 65%, compared to 47.51% in the first round of the last parliamentary elections in 2022.

For Macron, this result is a major setback. Following the release of the projections, he called for a “democratic and republican grand alliance for the second round.”

Marine Le Pen, leader of the Rassemblement National, said France had voted “without ambiguity.” She urged her supporters to ensure that her protégé, Jordan Bardella, becomes the next prime minister.

Macron’s decision to hold elections now, just weeks before the Paris Olympics, surprised many, including his prime minister. He believed it was his democratic duty to gauge French sentiment through a national vote and expected insurmountable opposition to his deficit-reducing budget by October.

The National Rally could secure an absolute majority of 289 seats in the 577-seat Parliament in the second round of voting. Macron’s party and allies, who won around 250 seats since the last parliamentary vote in 2022, have struggled to implement his agenda due to a lack of an overall majority and difficulty forming stable coalitions.

Despite successes like reducing unemployment, Macron had lost touch with the people who supported the National Rally. These voters felt condescended to by the president and believed he didn’t understand their struggles. They supported the party that blamed immigrants for their problems, even though aging France needs them.

The rise of the National Rally has been steady. Founded over half a century ago as the National Front by Jean-Marie Le Pen and Pierre Bosquet, the party faced a long-standing barrier to entering government. Marine Le Pen expelled her father from the party in 2015, renamed it, and abandoned some extreme positions, like leaving the European Union.

For Macron, who will leave office in 2027, there appear to be three difficult years ahead. The National Rally could shape much of the national agenda if it wins the prime ministership. Macron has vowed not to resign and retains control over foreign and military policy, but the National Rally may seek to limit his power if it gains an absolute majority.

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