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Elections in Near Darkness

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Photo: 28-year-old Jordan Bardella has a strong chance of leading the French government after succeeding the somewhat fatigued Marine Le Pen as the head of the National Rally. Source: Jordan Bardella X (formerly Twitter).
Photo: 28-year-old Jordan Bardella has a strong chance of leading the French government after succeeding the somewhat fatigued Marine Le Pen as the head of the National Rally. Source: Jordan Bardella X (formerly Twitter).

The decisive move by President Emmanuel Macron to call early elections for the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, has stirred up political life not just in France. After Brexit, France ambitiously sought to position itself as the new leader of Europe, but the impressive results of the openly Eurosceptic "National Rally" (RN) led by Marine Le Pen in the European Parliament elections prompted the early elections, originally scheduled for 2027. With Chancellor Olaf Scholz facing serious issues in Germany, Hungary assuming the EU Council Presidency from 1 July, and now France's snap parliamentary elections, this is a considerable challenge even for traditionally strong European institutions.


The early elections for France’s National Assembly are not only ahead of schedule in 2024 but also very urgent. The first round of voting is set for Sunday, 30 June. The entire election campaign is limited to three weeks, starting on 17 June and ending on the day of the second round on 7 July. This creates highly advantageous conditions for the three political heavyweights: Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN), the left-wing "Popular Front," and the centrist alliance "Together," which revolves around President Emmanuel Macron’s "Renaissance" party.


Macron decided to dissolve the National Assembly after the National Rally secured 31.36% of the vote in the European Parliament elections in France, while Macron’s Renaissance, along with its coalition neighbours Besoin d'Europe, managed only 14.6%. The left-wing coalition Réveiller l'Europe garnered 13.8% of the vote in the European Parliament elections.


How Parliamentary Elections Work in France


The early elections will appoint 577 members to the National Assembly. These deputies are elected for five-year terms in single-member constituencies. In each constituency, one candidate is elected, a system commonly known as a majoritarian system. Under this system, not only do party preferences play a significant role, but so do the media presence and popularity of individual candidates among their local communities.

 

The election system is designed so that the first round, which will be held on 30 June, determines the winner only if the frontrunner in a constituency receives an absolute majority of valid votes. This is contingent on the total number of votes exceeding 25% of the registered voters in that constituency. If these conditions are not met, a second round is held.

 

The participants in the second round, if no candidate is elected in the first round, will be the two candidates with the best results. If neither candidate reaches this threshold, a second round of elections is held between the top two candidates. An additional candidate can be included in the second round if they receive more than 12.5% of registered voters' support. The winner of the second round, the candidate with the most votes, will then take a seat in the National Assembly.

 

Naturally, the backing of a successful party is a significant factor in constituency elections. However, the candidate’s persona also holds considerable importance.

 

What Do Voters Expect? Everything


Regardless of the results of the European Parliament elections, most polls currently place Macron’s "Together" alliance in third place, behind the left-wing "Popular Front" and the far-right "National Rally" (RN).

Last week, at least three polls positioned the heavyweights in this order. The RN is projected to secure 34% of the vote according to the first poll, 33% in the second, and even 35% in the third. The first poll was conducted by IFOP for the TF1 broadcasting group and Le Figaro newspaper. The second poll was executed by Harris Interactive for RTL radio, M6 TV, and Challenges magazine. The third poll was conducted by OpinionWay for CNews TV, Europe 1 radio, and the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. As we can see, the RN’s poll results vary within the margin of statistical error.


And what about the "Popular Front," which is predicted to come in second? They are forecasted to receive 29%, 26%, and 27% respectively in the three mentioned polls, which also appear quite consolidated.


Does anyone forecast better prospects for Macron’s "Together" bloc? The alliance is predicted to receive only 22%, 21%, and 20% respectively in the polls mentioned above, showing very similar results.


Does this mean that these three political heavyweights will divide the seats among themselves in a similar manner? Not quite. Firstly, there are at least three parties capable of taking a significant number of seats away from the three leaders. These parties, based on the results of the European Parliament elections, are La France Insoumise (LFI, an ultra-left party), Les Républicains (LR, a liberal-conservative party), and the French Greens, Les Écologistes (LE), a moderately left-wing party.


There is also another source of uncertainty: the second round. Almost all constituencies required a second round in the 2022 elections, and this is unlikely to change this time.


Yes, poll results and the outcome of the European Parliament elections can help moderately predict the first-round results in individual constituencies. However, in the second round, personal sympathies for specific "best among the popular" candidates will significantly influence the outcome. Voter turnout, which can vary greatly, will also impact predictions.


Overall, the RN’s chances appear to be the best. Nevertheless, Macron might attempt to form a left-centrist coalition and place his candidate in the Prime Minister's seat. Even the current unfavourable polls for Macron suggest this possibility.


What are the implications? In France, the political system grants the President extensive powers in defence and foreign policy, while the government holds dominant positions in domestic policy. This division of responsibilities is not absolute, as both sides have certain influences on either side of this divide. For the past 70 years, presidents have mostly managed to form a parliamentary majority in their support. However, a few presidents have had to coexist with an opposition majority in the National Assembly.


Under current conditions, if Macron is forced to work with an opposing government, it will significantly complicate his ability to implement pro-European policies and steps to support Ukraine in its resistance against Russian aggression. The good news is that Macron, re-elected for a second term in 2022, cannot be removed from office for the remaining three years of his tenure, until the end of his term. He also has the right to dissolve the National Assembly again, but only a year after the current elections.


Photo: The face of Macron’s party campaign in the French National Assembly elections is 35-year-old Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, as Emmanuel Macron is currently not very popular. Source: Gabriel Attal X (formerly Twitter).




What Are They Promising?


So far, the rapid election campaign looks like a race of populist promises and a festival of Euroscepticism. However, as the prospect of gaining power draws nearer, candidates for the prime minister’s office, who are also leaders of the most popular parties, become more moderate. For instance, the leader of the National Rally, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, has significant chances of becoming prime minister if his party and its allies secure an absolute majority in the National Assembly. On 20 June, during a speech to the leading employers' group in France, Medef, he tried to reassure the business community by stating he would not engage in reckless fiscal adventures: "I understand that I need to reassure people."


Interestingly, in this field of populist promises, the far-right National Rally fiercely competes with the left-wing Popular Front. Both parties push the idea of lowering the retirement age from 64 to 60, capitalising on the widespread protests against Macron's decision to raise the retirement age. The far-right promises to find the funds for this by reducing contributions to the European budget.


What about Macron's team in the parliamentary elections? The current Prime Minister, 35-year-old Gabriel Attal, promised that if Macron's alliance remains in power after 7 July, they would reduce electricity tariffs and ease the inheritance tax. He also proposed a very left-wing idea of closely linking pension amounts to inflation rates to enhance the purchasing power of the French people. Most importantly, Attal promised not to raise taxes: "There will be no tax increases, no matter what." However, it is difficult for him to compete with the National Rally, whose leader has pledged to cut taxes.


Similarly, Macron's party struggles to compete with the far-right, who are ready to reverse the "green transition" and reduce electricity tariffs by shifting the focus back to nuclear energy, which generates very cheap, carbon-free electricity. Moreover, the RN promises strict anti-immigrant measures. In light of recent incidents involving migrants, this is likely to boost their chances of securing the prime minister's seat.

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