French candidates make hurried deals to try to stop far-right National Rally from leading government

PARIS (AP) — French opposition parties made hurried deals Tuesday to try to block a landslide victory for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in Sunday’s second round of legislative elections, as she said her party would lead the government only if it wins an absolute majority — or close to it.

The National Rally, under party president Jordan Bardella, secured the most votes in the first round of the early legislative elections on June 30 but not enough to claim an overall victory that would allow the formation of France’s first far-right government since World War II.

“We cannot accept going into government if we cannot act,” Le Pen said in an interview with public broadcaster France Inter. “It would be the worst betrayal of our voters.” However, “if we have, say, 270 lawmakers, we need 19 more, we will go to others and ask them if they are ready to participate with us in a new majority.”

Round one propelled the National Rally closer than ever to government but left open the possibility that voters could block its path to power on Sunday.

An unprecedented number of candidates who qualified for round two from the left-wing alliance of the New Popular Front and from President Emmanuel Macron’s weakened centrists have stepped aside to favor the candidate most likely to win against a National Rally opponent. Several Cabinet ministers were among those who abandoned the race.

According to a count by French newspaper Le Monde, some 218 candidates supposed to compete in the second round have pulled out. Of those, 130 were on the left and 82 came from the Macron-led centrist alliance Ensemble, it counted. Candidates had until 6 p.m. local time to withdraw.

The interior ministry was not immediately available to respond to a request to confirm those numbers.

“We have one objective today, to deny an absolute majority to the National Rally,” said François Ruffin of the hard-left France Unbowed party that is part of the New Popular Front alliance along with French greens, Socialists and Communists.

On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal appeared at a food market where he made a toast “to victory.”

“I need to prevent the National Rally from achieving an absolute majority in the National Assembly because it would be — and I say it from the bottom of my gut — it would be terrible for the country and the French,” Attal said.

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 unpopular president gambled that the far right would not repeat that success when France’s own fate was in the balance.

But Macron’s plan backfired. He is now accused, even by members of his own camp, of opening 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, immigration and at Macron himself.

The far right tapped into that frustration and the sense that many French families are being left behind by globalization. Le Pen’s party campaigned on a platform that promised to raise consumer spending power, slash immigration and take a tougher line on European Union rules.

The National Rally’s opponents fear for civil liberties if the party, which has a history of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and hostility to France’s Muslims, takes power. It plans to boost police powers and curtail the rights of French citizens with dual nationality to work in some defense, security and nuclear-industry jobs.

Macron himself warned that the far right could set France on a path to civil war.

Le Pen on Tuesday also spoke of a potential ban on the Muslim headscarf. She said she is still in favor of banning the headscarf in public but that the official decision warrants “presidential authority.”

“There are a number of issues regarding Islamist ideologies and the headscarf is only one of them,” she said.


Surk reported from Nice, France. Helena Alves in Paris contributed.


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