French far right works to turn election win into power

Supporters of French far right leader Marine Le Pen react after the release of vote count.
Supporters of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen cheer election results Sunday in Henin-Beaumont. Voters propelled the Le Pen’s National Rally to a strong lead in first-round legislative elections Sunday and plunged the country into political uncertainty, according to polling projections.
(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)
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With the ultimate outcome still up in the air, France’s fiercely anti-immigration National Rally and opponents of the long-taboo far-right party scrambled on Monday to capitalize on an indecisive first round of voting the day before in surprise legislative elections.

Round 1 propelled the National Rally closer than ever to government but also left open the possibility that voters could yet block its path to power in the decisive Round 2. France is now facing two likely scenarios in what promises to be a torrid last week of high-stakes campaigning.

Strengthened by a surge of support that made it the winner but not yet the overall victor, the National Rally and its allies could secure a working majority in parliament in the final round next Sunday — or they might fall short, stymied at the last hurdle by opponents who still hope to prevent the formation of France’s first far-right government since World War II.


Both scenarios are fraught with uncertainty for France and its influence in Europe and beyond.

Getting 289 or more lawmakers in the 577-seat National Assembly would give National Rally leader Marine Le Pen an absolute majority and the tools to force President Emmanuel Macron to accept her 28-year-old protege, Jordan Bardella, as France’s new prime minister.

Voters across mainland France are casting ballots in the first round of early parliamentary elections.

June 30, 2024

Such a power-sharing arrangement between Bardella and the centrist president would be awkward and likely contentious. Macron has said he will not step down before his second term expires in 2027.

Getting very close to 289 might also be enough for Le Pen. By promising posts in the government, she may win over enough new lawmakers to her side for it to work. A National Rally government in France would be an additional triumph for far-right and populist parties in Europe that have steadily chipped away at the political mainstream, taking power in some countries, including populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Hungary. He will hold the European Union’s rotating presidency for the next six months.

But the first round of the French vote was also sufficiently undecided to offer up the alternative possibility that France’s complex, two-round system could leave no single bloc with a clear and workable majority.

That would plunge France into unknown territory.

However, Le Pen’s opponents still view that scenario as more appealing than victory for her party, which has a history of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and hostility toward France’s Muslims — as well as historical ties to Russia and a more antagonistic attitude toward the EU.


Candidates who qualified for Round 2 have until 6 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether to stay in the race or withdraw. By pulling out, opponents of the National Rally might divert votes to another candidate better positioned to beat the far right next Sunday.

Far-right nationalist-populist parties are expected to make major gains in European Parliament elections. How will they use their new clout?

June 6, 2024

Some candidates announced of their own accord that they were stepping aside, making a defeat of the National Rally their absolute priority. In other cases, party leaders set the direction, saying they’d withdraw candidates in some districts in hopes of blocking Le Pen’s path to power. She inherited her party, then called the National Front, from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for racist and antisemitic hate speech.

Overall, the National Rally and its allies won one-third of the nationwide vote on Sunday, official results showed. The New Popular Front, a new left-wing coalition of parties that joined together to counter the far right, got 28% and was followed in third place by Macron’s centrist camp, with 20%. But the 577 seats are elected by districts. So while nationwide results provide an overall picture of how each group fared, they don’t predict exactly how many seats they’ll get in the end.

Support for the National Rally and the New Popular Front was so strong in some districts that they both won more than 30 seats outright already on Sunday, with more than 50% of the vote in those districts in Round 1. That means there’ll be no second round in those districts.

Marine Le Pen said those National Rally lawmakers would meet at the parliament on Monday and symbolically claim their seats.

When Macron dissolved the National Assembly and called the snap election on June 9, after a stinging defeat at the hands of the National Rally in French voting for the European Parliament, the deeply unpopular and weakened president gambled that the far right would not repeat that success when the country’s own fate was in the balance.


An initial projection provided by the European Union indicated far-right parties have made big gains at the European Parliament.

June 9, 2024

But Macron’s plan backfired. He is now accused, even by members of his own camp, of having opened a door for the National Rally by calling voters back to the ballot box, especially when so many are angry over inflation, the cost of living and Macron himself.

If the National Rally can form a government, it has promised to dismantle many of Macron’s key domestic and foreign policies. It says it would stop French deliveries of long-range missiles to Ukraine in the war against Russia.

At home, the party’s plans include the rollback of Macron’s pension reform that raised the retirement age and promises to boost voters’ spending power without clearly detailing how it would pay for the pledge that could also spook European financial markets.

National Rally opponents fear for civil liberties if it takes power. It plans to boost police powers, slash immigration and curtail the rights of French citizens with dual nationality to working in some defense, security and nuclear-industry jobs, alarming critics and minorities. Macron himself warned in the intense, three-week campaign that the far right could set France on a path to civil war.

Leicester, Corbet and Surk write for the Associated Press. Surk reported from Nice, France.