French elections: far-right makes gains, suffers from majority voting system

The party managed to mobilise its electorate more than in past legislative and local elections, and more than the other far-right parties, including Eric's Zemmour's Reconquête, which obtained 4.24% of the vote. EPA-EFE/Stephanie Lecocq [EPA-EFE/Stephanie Lecocq]

The far-right bloc dominated by Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, made some gains in the French parliamentary elections on Sunday (12 June) but will struggle to win seats in the second round (19 June) partly due to the voting system. EURACTIV France reports.

In the French legislative elections, a majority is needed in the first round to win a seat in National Assembly automatically. Those failing to obtain a majority the first time but obtaining at least 12.5% will contest the second round, set for Sunday (19 June).

Le Pen’s Rassemblement National obtained 18.68% in the first round of the election on Sunday (12 June) – an increase on the 13.2% obtained in the 2017 elections but below the 23.15% for Le Pen in the first round of the presidential elections in April.

Other far-right parties, including Eric Zemmour’s Reconquête, which took 4.24%, down from the 7.07% he obtained in the presidential election, also polled significant numbers.

Rassemblement National will have 206 candidates in the second round next Sunday (19 June) – progress compared to 2017, when only 119 candidates made the cut.

Sunday was also a success for Le Pen herself, who came in first in her constituency in Pas-de-Calais with 53.95% of the votes. However, due to the low turnout, Le Pen will still have to go up against Marine Tondelier, the candidate of the left-wing alliance who obtained 23.43%.

An opposition ‘respectful of our institutions’

Speaking from her hometown of Hénin-Beaumont, Le Pen called on the French people to elect candidates from the Rassemblement National for a “firm opposition but respectful of our institutions”.

For Rassemblement National voters facing a choice between candidates from Macron’s group Ensemble! and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing coalition in the second round, Le Pen said they should not “choose between the destroyers from above and the destroyers from below” and between “those who want to deprive you of your rights and those who want to deprive you of your property.”

She said voters should choose according to the “patriotic sense” of the candidates.

According to various polling institutes, Rassemblement National could obtain between 15 and 30 seats according to Ifop and 20 and 45 according to Ipsos France.

This is much more than the eight Rassemblement National deputies currently at the National Assembly and would mean they could even form a group for which a minimum of 15 is required.

The low number of deputies compared to the party’s vote share is explained by the voting system, which disadvantages more radical candidates who struggle to obtain votes when facing moderate candidates in the second round.

Meanwhile, Eric Zemmour’s party Reconquête! struggled on Sunday as several of its main candidates were eliminated in the first round, including Zemmour, Stanislas Rigault and Guillaume Peltier, and failed to challenge Le Pen’s party on the far-right end of the French political spectrum.

Le Pen makes her comeback by roasting Mélenchon

After the two weeks of silence that followed her defeat in the presidential election on April 24, Marine Le Pen returned to the political scene by attacking head-on the union of the left and the “fairy tales” of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Right resilience

Meanwhile, the right-wing party Les Républicains (LR), showed relative resilience following their historic defeat in the first round of the presidential elections.

Before Sunday’s vote, leader Christian Jacob said that Les Républicains would “create a surprise” in the legislative elections and, following the results, he said he believes the party will play a “decisive role” in the next legislature.

With 10.42% of the vote, more than five points less than in 2017, the results are far from a positive “surprise”, but show that the party is sustaining itself locally, despite  Valérie Pécresse’s failure to reach 5% in the first round of the presidential election.

71 right-wing candidates will contest the second round. Ipsos France, estimates that Les Républicains will win between 50 and 80 seats, though that would still be a significant drop on the over 100 seats obtained at the last election.

“A decisive block”

Jacob said on France 2 that Les Républicains are able “to play a decisive role between the voice of the extremes, left and right, and the inertia of the majority.”

“The majority of French people are on the right,” said Rachida Dati, former minister and mayor of the 7th arrondissement of Paris, urging voters to elect as many LR deputies as possible to create a “block of responsibility, decisive for this new term of office.”

Caught between the presidential movement Ensemble! on the one hand and the far-right parties on the other, Les Républicains had hesitated over their campaign strategy.

They also suffered from the backing Macron got from former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the founder of the party, as well as the departure of influential executives to the presidential party.

After 10 years in opposition, the temptation to conclude a government pact with Macron is strong if the latter fails to obtain an absolute majority.

Sarkozy calls to vote for Macron as the French right fractures

The former right-wing president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has called on citizens to vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election on 24 April, in contrast with the position of his former party.

[Edited by Alice Taylor and Benjamin Fox]

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