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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
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New left-wing coalition in France polls better than centrists, but long-term durability is doubtful

France’s New Popular Front coalition brought four political parties together in a matter of days to combat the leading far-right National Rally. But experts doubt whether the alliance will survive in the long term.

MARSEILLE, France (CN) — French voters will cast the first round of ballots Sunday that will determine its new government’s composition. Though the far-right National Rally, or RN, leads the polls, a new left-wing coalition is gaining steam despite significant disagreements within the parties involved.

When the RN crushed French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party in the European Parliament elections on June 9, giving the populists a voice in the European Union’s legislative body, the president announced the dissolution of the government and called for immediate snap elections. The decision came as a shock.

Experts say Macron foresaw a few scenarios. In the best case, his party would win the snap elections and simultaneously shut down critics advocating for a government that better reflects the public’s political allegiances.

Alternatively, the RN could win, which would likely make Jordan Bardella — the 28-year-old protégé of Marine Le Pen — the prime minister. Luc Rouban, a senior research fellow at Sciences Po Paris, told Courthouse News that this could effectively be a strategy to set Bardella up for failure ahead of the more critical presidential elections in 2027.

Leader of the French far-right National Rally Marine Le Pen and the party president Jordan Bardella. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

But the political left threw the president a curve ball. In a matter of days following the announcement of the elections, four prominent leftwing parties — the Socialists, Communists, Greens and France Unbowed, or LFI — united to form a coalition, the New Popular Front, the NFP.

The NFP is trailing behind the RN in the polls and remains a significant margin ahead of Macron’s coalition. While the president has always been critical of the RN, he’s now calling the public’s attention to the dangers of a far-left government. On Monday, Macron warned either a far-right or far-left win could lead to civil war.

While the RN built on the momentum from its European elections win, the far left’s swiftness in forming a coalition was a surprising display of unity. But serious doubts remain over the coalition’s long-term durability, while profound differences between the four parties threaten to outweigh their common goals.

“Was it necessary or not? Who knows, but they thought it was necessary, even if they agree on almost nothing, to show unity in the face of the RN,” Virginie Martin, political scientist and researcher at Kedge Business School, told Courthouse News. “Inside, really, the differences are extremely wide and profound.”

One of the main sources of concern is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the hard-left LFI. Although Mélenchon’s party did well enough in the 2022 presidential elections to win 22% of the vote in the first of two rounds — just short of Marine Le Pen’s 23.2% that brought the RN into the final runoff against Macron — the LFI has attracted controversy over the past few months. This was catalyzed by Mélenchon’s refusal to call Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel an act of terrorism.

“It was a difficult decision and it wasn’t a marriage for love,” Raphaël Glucksmann, a leading figure in the Socialist party, said about the coalition. “It was tactical.”

Ukraine is another divisive topic within the coalition. While the Socialists, for example, advocate for providing support to Ukraine, Mélenchon — in a similar vein to the extreme right — has typically leaned more toward Russian President Vladimir Putin’s camp.

Glucksmann talking to reporters in Marseille in Saint Barnabé, a neighborhood in the 12th arrondissement of the city. (Lily Radziemski/Courthouse News)

“Raphaël Glucksmann is the first to defend Ukraine, but Mélenchon is more on Putin’s line,” Martin said. “Because he’s anti-American, because NATO isn’t really his thing, because he thinks that [France] is subject to both Europe and the United States and he still has a fascination for alternative characters to [those from] the United States, authoritarian sovereigntist characters.”

Rouban argues that this could threaten the longterm success of the left’s new alliance.

“The [New] Popular Front seems apparently united, but in fact, it’s not at all,” he told Courthouse News. “The Socialists and the Greens are very pro-European, the members of the LFI are anti-European.”

There are also domestic factors that are coming into play. The Communists, for example, are very in favor of nuclear energy, which the Greens fervently oppose it, according to Rouban.

“I don’t really see how they can agree to define a common policy,” he said. “They have disagreements of real, real importance.”

In the public’s opinion, Martin argues that although the LFI’s radicalism is scary to some voters, the Greens also attract criticism for being “écolo-bobo,” which roughly translates into being environmentally bohemian-bourgeois. This typically refers to green mandates that are drafted by people that can afford extra expenses tied to the climate transition, without acknowledging how certain changes may impact the working class.

“It’s this very radical ecology that many consider as punitive,” she said.

But many voters remain committed to the New Popular Front, and see it as the best way to prevent an RN win despite disagreeing with some of the policies.

“I’m for the New Popular Front because it’s the only left-wing union against fascism,” Jacqueline Vesperini, a woman attending a campaign event for the Socialists in Marseille last week, told Courthouse News. “The activists of the LFI are activists of the left, for me … . We can’t blame all of the LFI for the actions of just a few people.”

Hedre Castagnoni, a social activist, also attended the event. Though he considers himself a Socialist, he supports the new union.

“LFI is a partner of the union, and I think it’s the union that we have to focus on,” he told Courthouse News. “It’s true that in the core of the parties, there are some that are more moderate than others, and LFI represents a party that is more extreme than others … but we’re with them on a number of points.”

The polls show the RN projected to win roughly 35% in the first round of voting on June 30, with the NFP at around 28%. Macron’s party is trailing behind at 20%.

After June 30, whichever parties win more than 12.5% will progress to the second and final round on July 7.  

Follow @lilyradz
Categories / Government, International, Politics

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