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French Conservatives Win First Round of National Elections

July 2, 2024

French leftists are in panic mode as the leading conservative party is poised to take over the national parliament. On Sunday, the National Rally dominated the first round of voting in France’s snap election, garnering over a third of the vote and besting left-wing runner-up New Popular Front by more than five percentage points.

Left-of-center president Emmanuel Macron dissolved the parliament and called a snap election earlier this year, in the face of the National Rally’s substantial gains in the European Union elections early last month. Macron’s own coalition party, Ensemble, came in third place on Sunday, barely clearing 20% of the vote. Previously, the coalition held the most seats in the French National Assembly: 249 out of 577.

“In hindsight, French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly and call for snap elections looks like one of the worst decisions by a European politician in recent memory,” observed Family Research Council Action Director Matt Carpenter in comments to The Washington Stand. Carpenter called Sunday’s election result “both astonishing in its rebuke of Macron and his agenda and unsurprising given the results of the recent European Parliament elections.” He added, “While it remains to be seen if the National Rally will be able to form a new French government, it is nonetheless a stunning rebuke of Macron and his policies.”

A majority of 289 seats in the National Assembly is required to form a single-party government, and polling based on the first round of voting is predicting that the National Rally is on track to earn anywhere from 250 to 300 seats. In France, a two-round voting system is typically used. If a candidate garners both the majority of the vote in his constituency and at least 25% support from registered voters, regardless of voter turnout, he wins in the first round. If no candidate meets this threshold, the top contenders (up to four, but more likely only three in this election) proceed to a second round of voting.

With that second round of voting taking place on July 7, Macron and his left-wing allies are scrambling to beat the conservative National Rally. Members both of Macron’s establishment Ensemble and of the further-left New Popular Front coalition are reportedly negotiating for candidates to withdraw from vulnerable districts, in order not to split the vote and hand the National Rally an automatic advantage. Macron is reported to have told his cabinet ministers and members, “Not a single vote for the far right. It’s worth remembering that in [the elections of] 2017 and 2022, on the left, everyone held that line. Without it, you and I wouldn’t be here.” According to Reuters, Macron said on Monday that defeating the National Rally was his top priority. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal echoed those sentiments, declaring that no one should cast a “single vote” for the National Rally.

Ipsos has calculated that the first round of voting yielded approximately 300 three-way contests, while Le Monde reported that at least 200 third-place candidates have already withdrawn in an effort to defeat the National Rally. Candidates have until 6 p.m. Central European Time on Tuesday to withdraw before the next round of voting.

Evidently fearing defeat and the possible failure of his non-vote-splitting scheme, Macron has begun fast-tracking presidential appointments before there is a hardline conservative majority in the National Assembly to oppose him. Marine Le Pen, the parliamentary leader of the National Rally and Macron’s former rival for the presidency, condemned the move as an “administrative coup d’état.” She argued that the president is attempting to “counter the vote of the electorate, the result of the elections, by appointing people [loyal to him], so that they prevent, within the state, the ability to carry out the policy that the French people want.”

In the United States, President Joe Biden has made similar moves. Faced with his political opponent Donald Trump’s surging poll numbers, Biden’s administration has issued new personnel rules to shield unelected career bureaucrats in influential agencies from being fired by Trump should the former president regain the White House. In a statement similar to Le Pen’s, Family Research Council’s Senior Director of Government Affairs Quena González told The Washington Stand at the time, “The Biden rule undermines the authority of the American people to choose their government by tying the hands of an elected president. … America does not need a permanent ruling class of unelected elites in Washington who are not subject to electoral accountability.”

Addressing what the conservative surge in France might portend for the upcoming U.S. elections in November, Carpenter told TWS, “Just as the populist wave in 2015 began in Europe with Brexit in Britain, and washed ashore in the United States with Donald Trump’s 2016 win, we could see a similar dynamic this fall as populist parties win across the West, first in Europe, then in America.”

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.