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  1. The Staggers
8 July 2024

Jubilation from the French left on the streets of Paris

But their celebrations can't disguise the fact that the far-right is part of politics now.

By Natasha Voase

Cheers tore through the throng as the results came in. The crowds, which had begun to gather at Place de la République as the final voters headed to the polls, realised what had happened. The exit polls were in, and a left-wing surge appeared to have thwarted the far-right’s hopes of forming a government.

The first estimates came as a surprise. Based on early votes, the New Popular Front would secure between 170 and 215 seats, with Macron’s party trailing on 140 to 180 votes. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally was set to secure 160 seats. Even the most optimistic left-wing voter could not have hoped for better and the crowd, which had been growing slowly over the previous hours, erupted into jubilant cheers. The left, struggling for political breathing space since Macron came to power, finally had something to celebrate.

As the night wore on and the crowd grew, results trickled in and confirmed the estimates. With votes counted, the New Popular Front has 182 seats, Macron’s party 168 and RN 143. All parties are short of the 289 seats required for a majority. France is therefore heading for a hung parliament. In a political system designed to avoid unstable, pluralistic parliaments, there is doubt as to how well this will work.

But for now, the left can celebrate its victory. “We’ve won,” people shouted as the seats rolled in. “We’ve won for now,” others cautioned as it became clear that, though the results showed the strength of the barrage républicain or Republican Front (the strategy of uniting left and centre against the far-right), the left itself was far from victorious. “It’s a victory for now,” said Juliette, 78. “We’ll wait and see what happens next.” And the success of the left-wing coalition, formed shortly after Macron called the snap election, disguise its fundamental divisions. “We would have done better without Mélenchon,” Juliette said.

The choice of Prime Minister is one of the first challenges, especially with the Olympics just around the corner. Gabriel Attal, the Prime Minister, has announced that he would resign this morning (8 July). Though the New Popular Front might hope that Macron, who has the power to select the Prime Minister, will choose someone from its ranks, this is not guaranteed. And given Macron has previously refused to govern with LFI, any cohabitation will be difficult. Meanwhile, given the fragility of a hung parliament, fresh legislative elections next year are far from out of the question. Cohabitation is difficult at the best of times, let alone between an unstable government and a President with a penchant for high-handedness.

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The strength of the barrage républicain and the left more generally was on full display on Sunday night as young Parisians danced and lit fireworks. However, Marine Le Pen’s party is far from defeated. If anything, these results show that it has gone mainstream. While Paris often votes either for the left or the centrist parties, even within the wider Ile-de-France region, some voters were eager for a change. In Roissy-en-France, a small town moments from Charles de Gaulle airport, a female voter said of the RN on Sunday morning: “We’ve never tried [them],” adding that other parties had failed to govern France. There, in the first round, the RN secured 43% of votes.

The ability of other parties to out-manoeuvre the far-right also sparked cynicism. Following the victory of the RN in the first round, more than 200 candidates pulled out of three-way races, as the front républicain worked to consolidate the anti-RN vote. “Is it really democratic?” the same woman said. “I don’t understand why we vilify them [the Rassemblement National].” Though the far-right have been denied a majority this time around, France is far from unified. Even at Place de la République, jubilation began to fade as the French police moved in to disperse the crowd.

As the popular saying goes, Paris is not France. And the results of both rounds are a reminder of that. The RN has secured more seats than in the previous parliament, allowing them to influence, and perhaps thwart, government policy. Meanwhile, the normalisation of the RN’s policies, previously viewed as bordering on fascism, make its ideology particularly difficult to combat. Despite these results, the far-right are part of French politics now.

Meanwhile, scenes of jubilant unity on the streets of Paris hide the reality exposed during the legislative campaign. Whether right or left-wing, all candidates argued they were fighting for the soul of the French Republic. But they all have differing conceptions of what that means. These problems will not go away in a blaze of exuberant fireworks or anti-fascist chants. And the possibility of France remaining ungovernable for another year could mean that these frustrations, like the far-right, are here to stay.

[See also: The Kamala risk]

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