Politics & Economics

France: Political Elections, Le Pen’s Right-Wing Wins, but the Runoff Could Reshuffle the Deck

July 2024
By Giampiero Gramaglia

For France, and for Europe, it’s a week of high tension: the results of the first round of the French political elections leave the composition of the National Assembly largely undetermined because the seats already assigned are just over one-sixth of the total 577, and because the runoff mechanism means that the percentage of votes received may not correspond to the seats obtained. The absolute majority is set at 289 seats.

Against Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella‘s far-right National Rally (RN), the ‘republican cordon’ of France has already been activated—a reciprocal withdrawal mechanism by candidates from Emmanuel Macron‘s center and the far-left Front National in favor of the best-placed candidate in the three-way runoffs, which are very numerous. All candidates who obtained at least 12.5% of potential voters, not just actual voters, qualify.

The ‘republican spirit’ has always worked in France, in both presidential and parliamentary elections. But this time, the uncertainties are greater because support for the RN is very strong, a portion of the traditional right could vote for Le Pen’s candidates, and the cohesion between Macron and the FP leaders is weak—and it is even weaker among the electorate. Moreover, the cohesion within the FP itself is fragile.

France: Election Results
This morning, the French Interior Ministry announced the final results of the first round, with turnout close to 70%. For the National Rally and its allies, 10,625,662 French people voted, 33.14% (255-295 potential seats, a range straddling the absolute majority goal).

The New Popular Union of the Left obtained 27.99% (120-140 seats); Ensemble, Macron’s party, 20.04% (90-125 seats); Les Républicains, the center-right, 10.74% (35-45 seats).

The Greens (2%) and left-wing dissidents from the Popular Front (1.5%) might win a handful of seats, while the far-left Workers’ Struggle, dissidents from Macron’s party, far-right sovereignists, and RN dissidents led by Eric Zemmour are not expected to elect any deputies.

To be elected in the first round, more than 50% of the votes were needed. At least 39 RN candidates, including leader Marine Le Pen and official Sebastien Chenu, succeeded, along with about twenty FP candidates. Among the defeated FP candidates was French Communist Party secretary Fabien Roussel, beaten by RN candidate Guillaume Florquin, who received 50.3% of the votes.

France: Election Comments
If the far-right obtains an absolute majority in the National Assembly and thus the premiership for Bardella, it would be the first time in the Fifth Republic of France. The victory chants in the RN camp are obvious: “We have begun to dismantle the Macronian block,” says Le Pen in her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, in the north of the country, where she was elected in the first round. Among the supporters waiting for the leader, there was an uproar at the announcement of the results; and while she spoke, tricolor flags waved. “This is the first step in a march towards political alternation to implement the reforms the country needs.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter, who ousted her father from the party hierarchy in a twenty-year-long process of political legitimization, has now projected herself towards power: that of her protégé Bardella, who she already sees leading the government, and her own personal power, eyeing the 2027 presidential race.

With an institutional stance, Bardella, however, did not speak to the militants but only to journalists: “The outcome of the vote is an unappealable verdict, a clear aspiration of the French for change.” For the far-right candidate for prime minister, “alternation is within reach,” there is “unprecedented hope across the country.” “I will be the prime minister for everyone,” he assured.

But a reaction is brewing: for Macron, “It’s time for a broad, clearly democratic and republican union in the second round”; Jean-Luc Mélenchon thunders “Not a single vote for the RN, wherever we are third, we will withdraw the candidate”; Raphael Glucksmann, leader of Place Publique within the FP, is on the same line. The week—warns Tullio Giannotti, ANSA’s long-time correspondent in Paris—promises to be long and crucial, with contradictory premises in the front that should form a barrier against the Le Pen wave.

Giannotti notes: “If Mélenchon’s appeal was vibrant and unambiguous, the situation of the barrier is very fluid, because clear instructions are not coming from Macron’s party.” Glucksmann, who brought the Socialist Party to third place in the European elections, sounds the alarm: “We have seven days to avoid a catastrophe in France and Europe.”

Les Républicains, who did not follow their president Eric Ciotti in his agreement with Le Pen and still achieved a significant 10% of the votes, have already announced that they will not give instructions to their voters.