High-stakes French legislative election hits torrid final stretch before first-round voting begins

PARIS (AP) — With their own and France’s fates in the balance, candidates were making their last campaign pushes Friday for the first round of voting in a pivotal and polarizing legislative election in which the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron risks a potentially fatal beating at the hands of the surging far right.

With pollsters indicating that the anti-immigration National Rally could greatly increase its number of lawmakers in the National Assembly, the election could radically alter the trajectory of the European Union’s largest country and hamstring Macron — who has been a driving force in EU decision-making — for the remainder of his second and last presidential term.

A far-right victory, coming on the heels of its surge in French voting for the European Parliament this month, risks saddling the president with a National Rally prime minister, Jordan Bardella. That would take the EU’s second-largest economy into unchartered territory because the two men’s plans for France’s future are so sharply opposed and a power-sharing forced marriage between them could be conflictual and divisive.

Bardella, a 28-year-old protege of National Rally leader Marine Le Pen and with no governing experience, says he would use the powers of prime minister to stop Macron from continuing to supply long-range weapons to Ukraine for the war with Russia. He cites fears that their ability to strike targets in Russia could suck nuclear-armed France into direct confrontation with the nuclear-armed government in Moscow.

But France’s two-round system of voting — the initial balloting on Sunday will thin the field for decisive follow-up voting on July 7 — means the election’s ultimate outcome is very uncertain. That allowed National Rally opponents to believe as they canvassed for votes that they could still lay the groundwork to prevent a legislative majority in the second round for the nationalist, far-right party with historical links to antisemitism.

In the final stretch before Friday night’s campaign cutoff, the National Rally faced renewed criticism for its plans to curtail the rights of French citizens with dual nationality by freezing them out of some security, defense and nuclear-industry jobs. National Rally leaders have given conflicting information about how many people would be impacted, but said that it would be in the dozens, and on the exact scope of the restrictions.

Critics say the planned policy change would create an underclass of French citizens and reveals a discriminatory way of the thinking at the heart of the party, which has long been accused of stoking hostility toward immigrants, Muslims, Jews and people of color.

“This is how it starts and then it goes further,” said Youssef Elkouch, a 31-year-old scriptwriter, as he attended a rally against the far right in Paris on Thursday night.

“The only coherence in the National Rally program is to attack Muslims or immigrants. I’m French, but I don’t think that matters to people who vote for them,” he said.

Macron dissolved parliament’s lower house and called the quick early election in hopes of shoring up support for his government in the wake of its humiliating defeat in the European Parliament vote on June 9. His gamble triggered an unforeseen redrawing of France’s political map even before French voters overseas started casting ballots online this week.

Id it backfires and ushers in France’s first far-right government since the country’s Nazi occupation in World War II, Macron risks being remembered for one of the most earth-shaking political decisions in Europe and misreadings of a nation’s mood since David Cameron triggered the Brexit vote as U.K. prime minister in 2016. That led France’s neighbor out of the EU in 2020 after a messy divorce.

On the left of French politics, Macron’s decision has had the effect of galvanizing previously splintered parties into a new coalition that has coalesced behind promises of huge public spending, which opponents say would be ruinous for the economy, jobs and France’s debts, already criticized by EU watchdogs.

On the far right, the National Rally has been bolstered by defections from the traditional right that has shattered in the campaign shake-up. It could also draw voters from far-right fringe parties. Victory on July 7 would crown a yearslong rebranding effort by Le Pen to make the party, previously called the National Front, more palatable to mainstream voters. She inherited it from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for antisemitic and racist hate speech, ultimately leading her to sideline him.

In the middle ground, Macron and his candidates have been furiously arguing that the left-right blocs are both extreme and dangerous, hoping to rekindle the dynamic that saw him elected as president in 2017 and 2022. But it worked less well in the last legislative election that followed his reelection, leaving his government without an absolute majority and weakened in the National Assembly.


Leicester reported from Le Pecq. Associated Press journalist Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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