French vote turnout soars as far right eyes power

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Supporters of Marine Le Pen, French far-right leader and far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally - RN) party candidate, hold French flags at the venue for Marine Le Pens reaction speech before partial results in the first round of the early French parliamentary elections, in Henin-Beaumont, France, on Sunday. — Reuters
Supporters of Marine Le Pen, French far-right leader and far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally – RN) party candidate, hold French flags at the venue for Marine Le Pen’s reaction speech before partial results in the first round of the early French parliamentary elections, in Henin-Beaumont, France, on Sunday. — Reuters

French voters flocked to the polls in numbers not seen for decades on Sunday for the first round of snap parliamentary elections which could see the far-right party of Marine Le Pen take power in a historic first.

President Emmanuel Macron stunned the nation by calling snap polls after the far-right National Rally (RN) party trounced his centrist forces in European Parliament elections this month.

But the gamble risks backfiring, with Macron´s alliance predicted in opinion polls to come only third behind the rampant RN and a new leftist New Popular Front (NFP).

Julien Martin, a 38-year-old architect, voting in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, said: “These are not easy elections, the results are very uncertain, and the repercussions could be serious for society.”

With the French facing their most polarising choices in recent history, turnout soared, with 59.39 percent casting their vote by 5:00 pm (1500 GMT), the interior ministry said, some 20 points higher than at the same stage in the last such polls in 2022.

This would equate to a final turnout of 67.5-69.7 percent when polling stations close this evening, the highest participation in a regular format legislative election in France since 1981, according to projections by several polling organisations.

The final turnout in 2022 was just 47.5 percent.

“The future scares me”

With Russia´s war against Ukraine in its third year and energy and food prices much higher, support for the anti-immigration and eurosceptic RN party has surged despite Macron´s pledges to prevent its ascent.

The two-round vote could put the far-right in power in France for the first time since the Nazi occupation in World War II and give 28-year-old RN party chief Jordan Bardella, a protege of its longtime leader Marine Le Pen, the chance to form a government.

In the southern city of Marseille, Nabil Agueni said he skipped the European elections but voted on Sunday.

“As long as we have a choice, it´s better to go and vote”, the 40-year-old said.

Nicole Cherprenet, a 79-year-old voter in Paris, added: “The future scares me.”

Some shopkeepers in major cities including Lyon and Rennes boarded up their storefronts in anticipation of possible riots.

According to most polls, the RN party is on course to win the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, parliament´s lower house, after the second round on July 7, although it remains unclear if it will secure an outright majority.

Macron and his wife Brigitte cast their ballots in Le Touquet in northern France, with the 46-year-old president seen taking selfies and mingling with supporters.

A beaming Le Pen was seen hugging and kissing voters in Henin-Beaumont, the far-right stronghold in the north, where she is standing to be re-elected as an MP.

Predictions of deadlock

Final opinion polls have given the RN between 35 percent and 37 percent of the vote, compared to 27.5-29 percent for the left-wing New Popular Front alliance, and 20-21 percent for Macron´s centrist camp.

Mujtaba Rahman, Europe head at Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, said turnout was key to the outcome of the election.

“The higher the turnout, the more candidates qualify,” he said on X.

He said that the left-wing alliance and Macron´s centrist camp would be able “to make deals to withdraw worst-placed candidates and allow the others a free run against the far right candidate” in the second round of voting.

Polling stations in major cities were set to close at 8:00 pm and will immediately be followed by projections that usually predict the result with a degree of accuracy.

Voters in France´s overseas territories had cast ballots earlier in the weekend.

In the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, where tensions remain high following deadly riots there last month, turnout stood at 60 percent compared to 32.5 percent recorded during legislative polls in 2022.

Spike in hate speech

Macron´s decision to call the snap vote plunged the country into political turmoil and sparked uncertainty in Europe´s second-biggest economy.

The Paris stock exchange suffered its biggest monthly decline in two years in June, dropping by 6.4 percent, according to figures released on Friday.

Many have pointed to a spike in hate speech, intolerance and racism during the charged campaign. A video of two RN supporters verbally assaulting a black woman has gone viral in recent days.

Macron has deplored “racism or anti-Semitism”.

Support for Macron´s centrist camp tumbled during the campaign, while left-wing parties put their bickering aside to form the New Popular Front, in a nod to an alliance founded in 1936 to combat fascism.



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