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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
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In the countdown to France’s snap elections, two extremes emerge from the chaos

Recently formed coalitions on the right and left are launching campaigns for the fast-tracked surprise elections. Early polls show the ends of the political spectrum are poised to defeat President Emmanuel Macron's centrists.

MARSEILLE, France (CN) — With France's snap elections less than two weeks away, just one thing is certain: There is no room for moderation.

“We’re in a period of great, great uncertainty,” Luc Rouban, a senior research fellow at Sciences Po in Paris, told Courthouse News. “But what is happening, above all, is that we have seen the division between the left and the right reemerging in a very, very clear way — no longer in political demand, but in political supply.”

On June 9, the extreme-right National Rally, or RN, crushed French President Emmanuel Macron’s party in the European elections. These results were expected, but Macron’s next move took even his own party by surprise. The president announced the dissolution of France’s government, calling for snap elections and sending the country into a state of full-blown political chaos.

Voters will determine the makeup of the next National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, in the first of two rounds of polling on June 30. The second round is set for July 7. If one party wins an absolute majority, Macron will have to appoint someone from its ranks as prime minister, who would then pilot the country’s domestic agenda. If there is no outright winner, it is unclear who Macron will choose, but it's likely that he would offer the post to someone from the leading party.

In France, ‘cohabitation’ is the term used to describe a government where the president and prime minister come from opposing political parties. It’s rare; since the Fifth Republic was formed in 1958, it has only happened three times. Gridlock becomes almost inevitable.

Political parties scrambled to form and finalize alliances ahead of this week, which marked the official launch of campaigns. The results have been tumultuous and full of intrigue.

On the right, when Éric Ciotti, the president of center-right The Republicans announced that the party would align with the RN — a rogue move that he apparently did not discuss with other party members beforehand — The Republicans attempted to oust their leader. Instead of stepping down, Ciotti locked himself in the party headquarters and insisted on being its reigning president.

Then, Marion Maréchal, a leader of France’e extreme-right Reconquer! party headed by Éric Zemmour, met with the RN to talk about an alliance — behind Zemmour’s back.

“This was a world record for betrayal,” Zemmour, whose party is even further to the right than the RN, said in a televised address. Marine Le Pen, the RN’s figurehead, is Maréchal’s aunt. The RN ultimately rejected any partnership with the more radical group.

Meanwhile, the left formed an alliance — the New Popular Front — uniting the Socialists, Greens, Communists and the far-left France Unbowed, or LFI. Despite some initial flip-flopping by Raphaël Glucksmann, a center-left socialist who was resistant to aligning with the LFI, the group managed to come together quickly and has published 10 pillars of its new mandate.

Raphaël Glucksmann before the European elections on June 9. (Harald Krichel/Wikimedia Commons via Courthouse News)

Early polls project the RN will win around 30% of the vote, the New Popular Front will trail slightly behind at around 25%, and Macron’s party will take roughly 20%.

Macron has maintained that no matter how the elections turn out, he will not step down as president. This has gone over relatively well in the political sphere; on Sunday, Le Pen said that if the RN wins the elections, she would not push for Macron’s resignation.

“It’s ultimately very curious to see that Emmanuel Macron, who was elected on the idea of ​​going beyond the left-right divide, ended up reestablishing it in a much more radical way,” Rouban said. “Now we have a left that is dominated by LFI, which is still quite strongly radicalized, and a right dominated by the RN, which is also radicalized.”

Some are calling for voters to hit the brakes on promoting either extreme. Kylian Mbappé, the French soccer star, urged young people not to vote for “extremists” who are “at the gates of power.”

"We have an opportunity to choose the future of the country and we have to emphasize the importance of the task," the French national team captain added.

The statement prompted a response from Jordan Bardella, the president of the RN, who could become the next prime minister if his party wins an absolute majority in the upcoming elections.

“I’m embarrassed to see people that are millionaires, that don’t have any difficulty making ends meet, giving moral lessons to French people that are in a position of great suffering,” Bardella said.

Concern over these extremes is growing. It’s loudly echoing in French media, on Twitter and on the streets. In Marseille, one woman who asked to remain anonymous watched her child spin around the carousel on the Place du Général-de-Gaulle, a square in the center of the city.

“I think Macron made a mess,” she told Courthouse News. “I think [the extremes] are not there by chance, I think it’s Macron that brought them up, and now we see the consequences.”

“I’m against extreme right and left,” she added.

Macron build his first campaign on the idea of bridging the divide between the two sides. But since his first win in 2022, the president’s approval ratings have plummeted, with recent polls showing just 24% of people trust Macron to tackle France’s problems. The yellow vest protests, last year’s retirement reform and a general sense that the president is concerningly out of touch with the average person have all added fuel to the fire.

Macron on screen at RN headquarters party
French President Emmanuel Macron appears on a television screen at the French far-right National Rally party election night headquarters, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

In contrast, the RN — which has been steadily normalizing itself with the help of Bardella, despite remaining officially classified as extreme right — has been capitalizing on the concerns of some French people.

“I’m really scared for people, they’re so tired that they have to go to these extremes,” Carol Hampartzoumian told Courthouse News, sitting at the cashier's desk of a homeware store in Marseille’s Le Panier district. “The RN is scary.”

Hampartzoumian thinks people are scared of crime, immigration and the abuse of social services. Despite being fervently against the RN, she said that from working in the social services sector, she understands why some people are frustrated about paying for those who take advantage of the system.

The RN’s “national preference” framework takes a hardline approach on these issues, though their approach and rhetoric is consistently criticized as xenophobic. Nonetheless, experts believe the party will come out on top.

According to Rouban, part of the problem is a fractured left. Despite coming together quickly after the announcement of the snap elections, the parties’ positions on key issues remain distant.

“On the left, the situation is not clear. The Popular Front seems united, but in fact, it is not at all,” Rouban said. “I would say it’s an alliance that is temporary, because in fact, they have political opinions, fundamental philosophical positions that are completely different.”

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