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French voter turnout soars as far-right eyes power

Courtesy: Dawn News/AFP

PARIS: French voters flocked to the polls in numbers not seen for decades on Sunday for the first round of snap parliamentary elections, which could see the far-right party of Marine Le Pen take power in a historic first.

President Emmanuel Macron stunned the nation by calling snap polls after the far-right National Rally (RN) party trounced his centrist forces in European Parliament elections this month. But the gamble risks backfiring, with Macron’s alliance predicted in opinion polls to come only third behind the rampant RN and a new leftist New Popular Front (NFP).

Julien Martin, a 38-year-old architect, voting in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, said: “These are not easy elections, the results are very uncertain, and the repercussions could be serious for society.”

With the French facing their most polarising choices in recent history, turnout soared, with 59.39 per cent casting their vote by 5pm (1500 GMT), the interior ministry said, some 20 points higher than at the same stage in the last such polls in 2022.

This would equate to a final turnout of 67.5-69.7pc when polling stations close, the highest participation in a regular format legislative election in France since 1981, according to projections by several polling organisations.

Many observers forecast deadlock after second round of voting

The final turnout in 2022 was just 47.5pc.

‘The future scares me’

With Russia’s war against Ukraine in its third year and energy and food prices much higher, support for the anti-immigration and eurosceptic RN party has surged despite Macron’s pledges to prevent its ascent.

The two-round vote could put the far-right in power in France for the first time since the Nazi occupation in World War II and give 28-year-old RN party chief Jordan Bardella, a protege of its longtime leader Marine Le Pen, the chance to form a government.

Some shopkeepers in major cities including Lyon and Rennes boarded up their storefronts in anticipation of possible riots.

In the southern city of Marseille, Nabil Agueni said he skipped the European elections but voted on Sunday. “As long as we have a choice, it’s better to go and vote”, the 40-year-old said.

Nicole Cherprenet, another voter in his 70s, added: “The future scares me.”

Second round

According to most polls, the RN party is on course to win the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, parliament’s lower house, after the second round on July 7, although it remains unclear if it will secure an outright majority.

Macron and his wife Brigitte cast their ballots in Le Touquet in northern France, with the 46-year-old president seen taking selfies and mingling with supporters.

A beaming Le Pen was seen hugging and kissing voters in Henin-Beaumont, the far-right stronghold in the north, where she is standing to be re-elected as an MP.

Predictions of deadlock

Final opinion polls have given the RN between 35pc and 37pc of the vote, compared to 27.5-29pc for the left-wing New Popular Front alliance, and 20-21pc for Macron’s centrist camp.

Mujtaba Rahman, Europe head at Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, said turnout was key to the outcome of the election. “The higher the turnout, the more candidates qualify,” he said on X.

He said the left-wing alliance and Macron’s centrist camp would be able “to make deals to withdraw worst-placed candidates and allow the others a free run against the far right candidate” in the second round of voting.

Polling stations in major cities were set to close at 8pm and will immediately be followed by projections that usually predict the result with a degree of accuracy.

1- Header image: Marine Le Pen, head of the French far-right Rassemblement National parliamentary group in the National Assembly, casts her ballot in the first round of elections in Henin-Beaumont, on Sunday.—AFP

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