Left-wing bloc surprisingly wins in tense France

The left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) bloc surprisingly won the second round of parliamentary elections in France on Sunday. According to exit polls published shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m. on Sunday evening, the NFP was on track for between 170 and 215 seats in the National Assembly, the French House of Representatives.

The left-wing bloc, formed especially for the elections, does not have an absolute majority. But the NFP is expected to have enough seats to form a coalition with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist bloc. According to exit polls, Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance would win between 150 and 180 seats.

The result is surprising, because Marine Le Pen’s radical right-wing National Assembly (RN) group scored a significant victory in the first round of parliamentary elections a week ago. Pollsters had predicted another RN victory. However, according to exit polls, RN remains stuck between 130 and 160 seats.

The fact that RN suffered damage to its image last week from candidates who appeared to be misinformed in interviews or who had previously made discriminatory statements online may play a role in this. In addition, left-wing and centrist candidates reached agreements in around 200 electoral districts. They withdrew in order to unite all voters opposed to RN behind one candidate. This “republican front” was organised to stop the advance of the radical right.

Macron until 2027

The NFP left bloc includes powerful radical groups, the most important of which is La France Insoumise (LFI), the party of the fierce and resourceful anti-capitalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The NFP wants to reverse many of the liberal economic reforms implemented by President Macron. For example, the left wants to lower the retirement age to sixty, while Macron pushed for an increase from 62 to 64 last year.

On Sunday evening, it was still difficult to estimate exactly how the government formation will play out. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who belongs to President Macron’s bloc, announced that he will resign on Monday. It remains to be seen whether Macron will accept this. In any case, the president, who called elections four weeks ago to the surprise of many, will emerge weakened from the battle.

Macron’s term as president runs until 2027. However, there is a good chance that the liberal president will have to work with a prime minister of a different political colour. Cohabitationor “cohabitation,” as the French call it. This situation has occurred several times before in the Fifth Republic, which was reestablished by General Charles de Gaulle in 1958. But the risk of friction is significant. Making concessions is simply not considered the greatest strength of French politicians.

“We will have to behave like adults,” warned NFP leader Raphaël Glucksmann on Sunday evening. “We will have to have a dialogue.”

30,000 additional police officers

The electoral battle has sometimes caused significant tensions in recent weeks. According to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, there have been more than fifty physical attacks on candidates and party activists. For example, Prisca Thevenot, a candidate for Macron’s party, was attacked along with her supporters on Wednesday while putting up posters in a Paris suburb. And RN candidate Marie Dauchy suspended her campaign after being attacked at a market in the Alpine village of La Rochette.

Authorities also expected unrest on Sunday. In Paris and other cities, many shopkeepers boarded up their storefronts as a precaution. And Interior Minister Darmanin deployed more than 30,000 additional police officers, including 5,000 in Paris, to maintain order.

At first, the mood in the central square, Place de la République, was cheerful. Flags were waved and chanted and anti-fascist slogans were chanted. When some protesters set fire to a barricade and began throwing objects at the police, the police fired tear gas.

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