Marine Le Pen’s far right, Macron’s centrists make final push ahead of decisive vote

Left-wing and centrist parties have coordinated to withdraw some 200 candidates in effort to prevent National Rally from achieving an outright parliamentary majority in runoff vote

Two pedestrians walk past election posters of the left-wing "Nouveau Front Populaire" (New Popular Front - NFP) in Paris, on July 3, 2024, ahead of the second round of France's legislative elections. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)
Two pedestrians walk past election posters of the left-wing "Nouveau Front Populaire" (New Popular Front - NFP) in Paris, on July 3, 2024, ahead of the second round of France's legislative elections. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — The French far right and its struggling rivals make a final push for votes on Friday ahead of the decisive round of parliamentary elections that were called in a major gamble by centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

The National Rally (RN) insisted it could win an absolute majority in parliament, despite polls projecting the anti-immigration and eurosceptic outfit would fall dozens of seats short of the target despite being the largest party.

Tensions are growing as the clock ticks down to Sunday, with several physical assaults reported on candidates. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 30,000 police officers would be deployed nationwide on voting day.

Friday is the last day of legal campaigning, which by law must wind down at midnight ahead of a day of calm Saturday before polls open in mainland France at 8:00 am Sunday.

Both the centrist forces led by Macron and a broad left-wing coalition have agreed to withdraw more than 200 candidates from the runoff on Sunday after the June 30 first round, to avoid splitting the anti-RN vote.

“I think there is still the capacity to have an absolute majority, with the electorate turning out in a final effort to get what they want,” the RN’s leader and three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told BFM television.

French far-right National Rally (RN) party member and candidate for the second round of legislative elections Marie-Caroline Le Pen (L), places a new campaign poster in Brains-Sur-Gée, western France, July 4, 2024. (Jean-François Monier/AFP)

French soccer star Kylian Mbappe stepped in to describe the results of the first round as “catastrophic” and say: “We can’t leave our country in the hands of those people.”

If the RN wins an absolute majority of 289 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, it would be able to form a government with Le Pen’s 28-year-old protege Jordan Bardella as prime minister.

But Le Pen acknowledged that Macron’s centrists and the New Popular Front (NFP) coalition had made her party’s task tougher with their “operation” to withdraw candidates to unite the anti-RN vote.

‘No place in our society’

Le Pen, who is expected to make a fourth attempt to win the Elysee Palace in 2027, acknowledged that there had been “inadmissible” problems with a handful of RN candidates, one of whom had to withdraw after a picture of her emerged wearing a Nazi-era Luftwaffe cap.

Four people, including three minors, were detained after government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot and her team were attacked while they were sticking up campaign posters in Meudon outside Paris, prosecutors said.

Thevenot, who is of Mauritian origin, was not harmed but a colleague and a supporter were wounded and taken to hospital after the attack by around 20 people.

The Paris Bar Council meanwhile asked the public prosecutor’s office to open a case after a far-right website called for the “elimination” of lawyers who had signed an article against the RN.

“Violence and intimidation have no place in our society,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal wrote on X.

Of the 30,000 police to be deployed nationwide Sunday, 5,000 would be on duty in Paris so that the “far left and far right do not create disorder,” Darmanin said.

Macron’s gamble

Macron’s decision to call snap elections three years ahead of schedule after his party’s drubbing in EU Parliament elections has been seen as the biggest gamble of his political career.

French President Emmanuel Macron reviews troops that will take part in the July 14th Bastille Day parade in Paris on July 2, 2024. (Aurelien Morissard/Pool/AFP)

Many remain bitter over a sudden decision that risks plunging France into chaos weeks before it hosts the Olympics and at a time when Macron’s government is playing a key role in backing Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

However, polls have shown that the Macron camp could at least avoid its nightmare scenario of an RN absolute majority, with weeks of negotiating for a shaky coalition government also in prospect.

A poll by Harris Interactive projected that the RN and its allies would win 190 to 220 seats in the National Assembly, while the latest Ifop poll Thursday projected it would get 210 to 240 seats.

The NFP is set to have the second-largest contingent and Macron’s alliance only the third-biggest faction.

The unpopular president has disappeared from public view, with his last public comments made in Brussels last week, and centrist candidates have been putting a photo of Attal, not of Macron, on their leaflets.

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