French elections 2024: Second round of voting kicks off as far right eyes power

The atmosphere across France is tense, with voters anxious about a potential electoral earthquake that could drastically reshape the political landscape

MEE and agencies

French President Emmanuel Macron exits a booth to vote in the second round of France's legislative election at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, on 7 July 2024 (Mohammed Badra/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron exits a booth to vote in the second round of France’s legislative election at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, on 7 July 2024 (Mohammed Badra/AFP)

French voters turned out in large numbers on Sunday for the second round of a historic election expected to leave the far right as the most significant force in a deeply divided parliament.

By midday, some 26.63 percent of voters had turned out for the high-stakes poll, the highest number at that time since 1981, according to interior ministry figures. 

The atmosphere in France is tense, with 30,000 police officers deployed to prevent trouble and voters anxious about a potential electoral earthquake that could reshape the French political landscape.

In the village of Rosheim, outside the eastern city of Strasbourg, an “anguished” 72-year-old named Antoine Schrameck said he feared France would see “a turning point in the history of the republic”.

And in Tourcoing, near the northeastern city of Lille, 66-year-old retiree Laurence Abbad worried about potential violence after the results were announced.

“There’s so much tension, people are going mad,” she said.

President Emmanuel Macron called the snap elections three years ahead of schedule after his party’s defeat in June’s European parliament vote, a gamble that seems to have backfired.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) topped the polls in the first round on 30 June and is poised to do so again in today’s run-off race.

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However, Le Pen may not win the outright majority needed to force Macron to appoint her lieutenant, RN party leader Jordan Bardella, 28, as prime minister just weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

A hung parliament with a significant Eurosceptic, anti-immigration contingent could weaken France’s international standing and threaten Western unity in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

European Union officials, already grappling with far-right parties in power in Italy and the Netherlands, are closely watching France. 

In Rome, Pope Francis used the day of the French vote to warn against “ideological temptations and populists”, stating: “Democracy is not in good health in the world today.” 

No majority expected 

With the country on tenterhooks, last week saw more than 200 tactical-voting pacts between centre and left-wing candidates in an effort to prevent the RN from winning an absolute majority.

This has been hailed as a return of the anti-far right “Republican Front” first seen when Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, faced Jacques Chirac in the 2002 presidential run-off.

Opinion polls now predict that the RN will fall short of the 289 seats needed for an outright majority in the 577-seat National Assembly but may still become the largest party.

Such an outcome could allow Macron to build a broad coalition against the RN and keep Gabriel Attal as prime minister on a caretaker basis. However, it could also herald a prolonged period of political paralysis in France as it prepares to host the Olympics from 26 July to 11 August.

“Today, the danger is a majority dominated by the extreme right and that would be catastrophic,” Attal said in a final pre-election interview with a French TV channel on Friday. 

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Many in France are baffled as to why Macron called an election that could result in the RN doubling its presence in parliament and his contingent of centrist MPs being halved.

However, the president, known for his dramatic gestures, appears intent on executing what he calls a “clarification” of French politics, aiming to eventually establish three clear camps: the far right, centre and hard left.

Final opinion polls published by two organisations on Friday projected the RN would win between 170 to 210 seats, followed by the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition with 145 to 185 and Macron’s centrists with 118 to 150.

While Macron’s Ensemble coalition is forecast to come third, the more successful NFP is a fragile alliance of several warring factions, ranging from traditional Socialists to the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon.

After voting began on Saturday in France’s overseas territories, polls opened in mainland France at 6am GMT and were due to close by 6pm GMT. 

Projections, which usually closely predict the final outcome, will be published shortly afterwards, with political leaders quickly responding to any national frenzy that may grip the nation.

Second round of voting kicks off in France as far right eyes power

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