French people reject the far right – again

1 hour ago

By Hugh SchofieldBBC News

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France’s left-wing rejoiced when the first projections were published.

The French have said it again: they do not want the far right in power.

They gave them a big win in the European elections; they gave them a big win in the first round of this parliamentary election.

But when it came to a vote that really counted, just as in the presidentials, they drew back from the brink.

This surprise upset which has reduced the National Rally (RN) to third place – with perhaps 150 seats compared with predictions a week ago of nearly 300 – is due entirely to voters turning out in large numbers to stop them.

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So if Jordan Bardella will not be France’s next prime minister, who will be?

The RN will argue – with some justice – that this was only possible because the other parties came together to play the system.

They note that the disparate parties of the left all suddenly forgot their differences to form a new anti-RN coalition; and then that the Macronites and the left forgot their differences too.

They note that nothing unites these politicians (from Edouard Philippe on the centre right to Philippe Poutou of the Trotskyist left) except their opposition to the RN. And that this lack of agreement bodes ill for the future.

Nonetheless, the fact remains. Most people do not want the far right – either because they oppose its ideas, or because they fear the unrest that would inevitably attend its coming to power.

So if Jordan Bardella will not be the country’s next prime minister, who will be?

That is the great unknown. And contrary to convention following previous French parliamentary elections, it may be weeks before we have an answer.

Because something has happened these past tense weeks to change the very nature of the French political system.

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Parties from across the left forgot their differences to see off the National Rally.

As Alain Duhamel — veteran of every election since Charles de Gaulle – put it: “Today there is no longer any dominant party. Since Macron came to power seven years ago, we have been in a period of deconstruction of our political forces.

“Perhaps now we are beginning a period of reconstruction.”

What he means is that there is now a multitude of political forces: three major blocs (left, far-right and centre); plus the centre-right. And within these there are competing tendencies and parties.

With no party able to call the shots in the Assembly, a long period of haggling is now inevitable aimed at forming a new coalition from the centre-right through to the left.

It is far from obvious how it will be formed – given the mutual loathing that the different potential components have expressed till now.

But we can bet that President Macron will now call for a period of apaisement – conciliation – after the tensions of the last weeks.

Conveniently this period will last through the Olympics and the summer holidays, allowing the French to recover their spirits.

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France’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has offered his resignation.

In the meantime, he will designate somebody to lead the talks and reach out to the different parties. Will it be someone from the left? Will it be someone from the centre? Will it be a political outsider? We do not know.

What seems certain though is that France is about to enter a more parliamentary system.

Power will drain from President Macron, and towards whoever heads the new government.

Even if he manages to place a centrist in the prime ministership (far from easy, given the strength of the left) that person will exercise power in his or her own right, and on the basis of parliamentary support.

Macron – with no prospect of running again in 2027 – will be a diminished figure.

So has the president lost his bet? Is he regretting his haste in calling the elections? Is he ready to take a backward step?

We can be sure that is not the way Macron sees it. He will be saying that he called the vote because the situation was untenable; that he has clarified politics, offered the RN a fairer share of Assembly seats, given their widespread support; and that his gamble that the French would never put the far-right in power was correct.

And in the meantime, he has not exactly gone away. Macron’s power may be on the wane. But he is still there at the Elysée, consulting with his team, prodding politicians, still master of the political clock.

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