Leftwing alliance makes strong first-round showing in French election

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s red-green alliance made a strong showing in the first round of France’s legislative elections on Sunday, giving it a chance of challenging President Emmanuel Macron for control of the National Assembly in the final round of voting next weekend.

With most of the ballots counted, the results showed Mélenchon’s alliance – the New Ecological and Social Popular Union (Nupes) – and Macron’s centrist Ensemble (Together) were the main vote-winners and would be the two biggest groups in the assembly.

Mélenchon’s success, however, is unlikely to translate into a majority in the 577-seat assembly, because moderate voters wary of his reputation as an extreme-left, Eurosceptic firebrand are expected to rally to Macron’s side in the second round on June 19.

According to pollsters’ early forecasts, Macron’s group will retain control and end up with between 275 and 310 seats, against 180-210 for Mélenchon’s. A party or alliance needs 289 seats for an outright majority.

Mélenchon called on voters to “surge” to the polls for next Sunday’s second round of voting “to definitively reject Mr Macron’s disastrous plans” and have their say after “30 years of neoliberalism”.

Élisabeth Borne, Macron’s prime minister, criticized the political “extremes” opposing her government and said: “We are the only political force able to win a majority in the National Assembly. . . Given the world situation and the war at the gates of Europe we can not take the risk of instability. ”

Each geographical constituency elects its own deputy, and in many the voters’ choice has been narrowed from about a dozen candidates in the first round to just two in the second. In most, the runoff will be between Macron’s candidate and Mélenchon’s.

Ballot boxes from the first round of French parliamentary election

Ballot boxes from the first round of French parliamentary election are emptied for counting in Strasbourg on Sunday © AP

The results, seven weeks after Macron defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen and convincingly won a second term as president, mark a dramatic comeback for the French left after five years in the political wilderness.

Under the leadership of Mélenchon – a 70-year-old political veteran who came third in the presidential election just behind Le Pen and had previously signaled he would retire – the left will at the very least be able to mount vocal opposition in parliament to Macron’s legislative agenda as he seeks to pursue his economic reforms.

In 2017, after sweeping aside his Socialist and center-right rivals to win his first term as president, Macron saw his candidates win full control of the National Assembly in the legislative elections that followed.

This time, if his centrist Ensemble alliance does not secure a majority in the Assembly, the president will need to find support from other parties such as the conservative Les Républicains to pass laws, for example to extend the retirement age from 62 to 65 for his proposed reform of the pension system.

In the unlikely event that it is Mélenchon’s Nupes alliance that wins a majority next week, Macron would remain in control of foreign policy and defense but would have to name a prime minister who has the support of more than half the assembly’s MPs and “cohabit” with a government hostile to his economic policies.

In common with citizens in other liberal democracies, including the US, the French have in recent years become increasingly disillusioned and turned to nationalist and populist politicians for solutions.

Partial results from the interior ministry indicated that more than half of French voters did not bother to cast a ballot on Sunday, suggesting a record low turnout of about 47 per cent for this type of election.

French politics is now split into three broad camps, with Macron and his allies in the center, Le Pen leading the anti-immigration nationalists on the far right, and Mélenchon at the head of his new left-green alliance, which includes his own La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and the Socialist and Communist parties.

Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party secured about 20 per cent of the votes on Sunday and is forecast to win between 10 and 25 National Assembly seats, while Les Républicains on the right are given between 40 and 60 seats in the early projection.

Among those who failed to make the cut in Sunday’s election were Éric Zemmour, the extreme-right television talk show star, who had already lost in the presidential race and has been unable to replace Le Pen as leader of the French far right.

In the first round of the presidential election in April, nearly 60 per cent of French voters chose a candidate from the extreme right or the extreme left.

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