French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron visit a polling station to vote in the first round of the early parliamentary elections in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, on June 30, 2024. Yara Nardi/Pool/ReutersFrench President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron visit a polling station to vote in the first round of the early parliamentary elections in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, on June 30, 2024. Yara Nardi/Pool/Reuters

Once likened to the mythical god Jupiter in his leadership approach, Emmanuel Macron now finds himself mirroring Icarus, having recklessly engaged in political brinkmanship that has backfired spectacularly. In a dramatic turn of events, Macron’s centrist coalition suffered a crushing defeat in the initial round of France’s parliamentary elections, ceding ground to the surging far-right National Rally (RN) party. Formerly marginalized, the RN’s commanding 33% of the vote positions them potentially for a historic ascension to power, marking a potential milestone as the first far-right party in French governance since World War II – pending the outcome of the upcoming decisive second round on Sunday.French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance was crushed on Sunday after the far-right National Rally (RN) party surged in the first round of the country’s parliamentary elections.

The left-wing coalition known as the New Popular Front also saw success, securing second place with 28% of the vote.

In contrast, Macron’s Ensemble alliance found itself in third position with 21% of the vote, prompting widespread questioning within his ranks about the rationale behind calling for snap elections.Once seen as a fringe movement the RN could now be positioned to assume power, after winning 33% of the vote. It would then become the first far-right party to enter the French government since World War II – although nothing is certain ahead of Sunday’s second round.

“This is no ordinary night,” remarked Prime Minister Gabriel Attal solemnly in his address to the French populace. “The far-right is on the brink of seizing power.”

The Emergence of Three Competing Powers

Despite the current standings, the election process is far from over. What unfolds next remains uncertain.Following Sunday’s parliamentary elections, only 76 candidates out of 577 were elected to the French parliament. The distribution includes 39 seats held by the RN and its allies, 32 by the New Popular Front, and merely two by Macron’s alliance. The remaining seats will be contested in the upcoming second round, promising extensive political negotiations and maneuvering beforehand. This pivotal phase could mark a seismic shift in French politics, as the landscape solidifies into three distinct blocs. The unprecedented situation includes a record-breaking 306 three-way races scheduled for Sunday, a stark contrast to the mere eight seen in the 2022 elections.

In France’s current electoral runoff system, only candidates surpassing the 12.5% threshold advance to the next round. Traditionally, most constituencies witness two candidates moving forward, but this year marks a significant shift with nearly half poised for three-way contests – an unprecedented development in modern French politics.

The dynamics of these three-way races favor frontrunners from the initial round, where the RN holds a commanding lead in more than half of the runoffs. Parties are now strategizing intensively to block far-right victories, facing a tight deadline as candidates must declare their intentions by Tuesday night.

The left-wing New Popular Front has declared its intention to withdraw third-place candidates in efforts to thwart far-right successes, while Macron’s alliance remains less definitive, with the prime minister stressing an anti-far-right stance.

Ultimately, decisions to withdraw or compete are left to individual candidates, and voters will ultimately decide the course of these pivotal elections.

Disrupting the Global Order

France’s recent parliamentary election has not only captivated domestic audiences – evidenced by a remarkable 67% turnout – but it also carries profound implications for global observers. Marine Le Pen’s RN party, known for its euroskeptic stance, may not advocate outright ‘Frexit’ anymore, but its manifesto challenges the foundational principles of the European Union.

With ambitions to strengthen national borders and reclaim sovereignty, the RN’s potential ascension to power could reshape Europe significantly, especially given its alliances with Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Hungary’s Viktor Orban among other far-right figures.

A victory for the RN could also signal alignment with Russian interests, as Le Pen has previously expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin and faced scrutiny for financial ties to Russian entities. Her questioning of presidential military authority contrasts sharply with Macron’s commitment to his term, which extends to 2027, and his constitutional role as commander-in-chief, including decisions on deploying troops abroad, such as in Ukraine.If the RN does dominate parliament, it will also be good news for Russian President Vladmir Putin. Le Pen has also only briefly criticized Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, having also previously taken a huge loan from a Russian bank and boasted of her “admiration for Vladimir Putin.”

Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old leader of RN, has unequivocally stated that he would not authorize French military involvement in Ukraine if he becomes prime minister, raising questions about France’s constitutional norms.

In 2022, Marine Le Pen expressed a desire to withdraw from NATO’s military command, although her party has since reversed course, citing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as a deterrent.

Currently, Macron’s party governs the National Assembly without a majority following disappointing results in the 2022 legislative elections. This predicament necessitates coalition-building or the use of constitutional mechanisms to pass legislation.

However, losing ground to either the left or right could spell trouble for Macron’s agenda, potentially leading to the appointment of a prime minister from the winning party—a scenario that would hand operational control of the government to a political adversary.

Bardella has insisted on governing only with an absolute majority, yet none of the parties appear poised to secure the necessary 289 seats based on initial results from the first round.

This political standoff could persist in France for at least the next year, posing a significant challenge for President Macron, seen by many as a predicament of his own making.

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