French left celebrates as far right faces shock defeat

2 hours ago

By Paul KirbyBBC News in Paris

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party is the biggest group in the left-wing alliance

France’s far-right National Rally was widely expected to win this snap election, but projections say they have been beaten into third place.

A left-wing alliance called New Popular Front are on course for victory, after a highly charged and abbreviated election called only four weeks ago by a weakened President Emmanuel Macron.

National Rally (RN) won the first round of this election, and all the opinion polls since then predicted victory in the run-off round.

Instead, France is heading for a hung parliament with no party having anything like a majority.

RN leader Jordan Bardella blamed “unnatural political alliances” for stopping their rise to power.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who was appointed by President Macron only seven months ago, said he would hand in his resignation in the morning, although he pointed out that his Ensemble alliance were on course to win three times the number of seats that had been forecast.

That was in part because 217 candidates, mainly from the left alliance and the Macron camp, had dropped out of the race to help their political rivals defeat RN.

Plenty of people were unhappy about it, but it meant that voters who had backed the centre or the left in the first round then pivoted to a rival party a week later, with the single aim of keeping the far right from taking control of parliament.

Mr Bardella complained that millions of French voters had been deprived of a response to France’s cost of living crisis by what he condemned as “alliances of dishonour”.

“We don’t want power for power’s sake, but to hand it to the French people” Mr Bardella told his supporters.

Party colleague Sébastien Chenu accused the Macron alliance of enabling a left-wing victory, leaving France in a “quagmire” conjured up by the president.

That alliance has now left France heading for a hung parliament, but also in uncharted territory because the biggest group in the left-wing alliance is led by the radical and abrasive Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose France Unbowed is widely seen as far left by his rivals.

A projection for TF1 TV gave France Unbowed (LFI) up to 94 seats, by far the most in his alliance.

He was quick to seize the moment, telling his supporters: “The president’s defeat is clear; the president must accept his defeat, the prime minister must go.”

A little more than an hour later Mr Attal – unlike President Macron, a highly popular politician – said he would do just that.

In an address from his residence at Hôtel Matignon, he said French voters had rejected the prospect of an extreme government. He praised all the candidates who had withdrawn from the race to stop RN from winning.

“Tomorrow morning I will hand in my resignation,” he said. “A new era starts tonight.”

Turning to the millions of voters who backed the far right he added: “I respect every one of you, because there are no categories of French people who vote right and those of vote wrong.”

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Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said his party was heading for three times the number of seats forecast

His fate is now in the president’s hands as France needs a stable government during the Paris Olympics which start on 26 July. Mr Attal said he was ready to remain in post “for as long as duty demands”.

But there are few people in the New Popular Front who are happy for him to stay in office.

“The president has the power and the duty to call us, the New Popular Front to govern. We are ready,” Mr Mélenchon declared.

Hastily cobbled together when Mr Macron stunned France with this two-round vote, the alliance includes Greens, Communists and Socialists as well as France Unbowed.

Greens leader Marine Tondelier agreed the Popular Front was now ready to govern France: “We’ve won and now we’re going to govern France.” But she said now was not the time to push for a new prime minister.

Socialist leader Olivier Faure said “France has said no to the far right coming to power. The far right made the choice of dividing the French people.”

One of France’s best-regarded politicians, former Macron prime minister Edouard Philippe, said the election campaign had led to great uncertainty in France.

While a “crushing majority” of the French people had said no to RN, they had also not given the left a majority to govern. It was now, he said, up to centrist political forces to seek a deal that would re-establish stability in France after weeks of tensions.

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