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French Far-right Makes Historic Gains in Legislative Election

The far-right National Rally (RN) party, led by Marine Le Pen, made strong gains in the first round of France’s parliamentary election on Sunday, bringing it closer to the gates of power.

According to final results published by the Interior Ministry on Monday, the RN and its allies gained 33% of the vote, while left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition came in the second place with 28%, and President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble alliance came third with just 20%.

Hard Blow

The results deal a harsh blow to Macron, who called for snap election after he lost to RN in the European Parliamentary elections in June. Macron could spend the remaining three years of his presidency in an awkward partnership with a prime minister from an opposition party, in an arrangement called “cohabitation.”

French Far-right Makes Historic Gains in Legislative Election
French President Emmanuel Macron

Leaders of both NFP and Macron’s centrist alliance pledged on Sunday night to withdraw their candidates in districts where another candidate was better positioned to defeat the RN in next Sunday’s runoff.

Close to Power

After the first-round results, the RN has become closer to power than ever. Le Pen has been trying to clean the image of her far-right party, known for racism and antisemitism. According to Reuters, this tactic has worked amid French voters’ anger at Macron over an array of issues, including the high cost of living and immigration.

While the RN seems close to win the most seats in the National Assembly, it may fall short of securing the 289 seats required for an absolute majority. This will require days of bargaining and alliance-building before the run-off vote. In case it fails, France may head for a hung parliament, adding further political uncertainty.

French Far-right Makes Historic Gains in Legislative Election
RN supporters

Stressing the importance of the second round, Le Pen said: “Democracy has spoken, and the French people have placed the National Rally and its allies in first place – and has practically erased the Macronist bloc.”

The far-right leader added: “Nothing has been won – and the second round will be decisive,” according to CNN.

Cohabitation Dilemma

In France, the president is responsible for determining the country’s foreign, Europe and defense policy, while the parliament majority takes charge of passing domestic laws, such as pensions and taxation.

During cohabitation, however, the president is weakened. Political historian Jean Garrigues told the Associated Press (AP) that in case of cohabitation, “policies implemented are essentially those of the prime minister.”

It’s possible for the president to prevent or temporarily suspend the implementation of a certain number of the prime minister’s projects, since he has the power to sign or not sign the government’s ordinances or decrees, Garrigues added. “Yet the prime minister has the power to submit these ordinances and decrees to a vote of the National Assembly, thus overriding the president’s reluctance,” he said.

Looming Crises

With the RN close to power, the French government could face trouble in passing laws, sparking a constitutional crisis. For example, Jordan Bardella, the party’s 28-year-old leader who could become prime minister, has opposed Macron’s idea of sending French troops to Ukraine. He also said he wouldn’t allow Ukrainian troops to use French weaponry to strike targets inside Russia.

French Far-right Makes Historic Gains in Legislative Election
Jordan Bardella

Moreover, a far-right government could trigger a financial crisis. The RN has made generous spending promises, including ending Macron’s pension reforms and cutting taxes on fuel, gas and electricity. These promises could be hard to deliver at a time when Brussels might slash France’s budget.

If the RN’s spending plans are implemented, they would increase France’s deficit, already one of the highest in the Eurozone.

An anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic RN-led government would also raise questions about the future of the European Union, owing to its resistance of further EU integration.

Mounting Fears

Fears are growing over civil liberties if the RN takes power. The far-right party plans to increase police powers and restrain immigration, alarming many in France given the RN’s hostile stance towards minorities.

France's Legislative Election
Protests against RN

Furthermore, the RN has questioned the citizenship right for people born in France. It also wants to cut back the rights of citizens with dual nationality. Critics fear this will undermine human rights and threaten France’s democratic values.

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