French left, Macron scramble to block far-right win

PARIS — Candidates in France on Tuesday faced a deadline to register for the run-off round of a high-stakes parliamentary election, as President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist camp and a left-wing alliance scrambled to prevent the far right from taking power.

On Sunday, French people go to polls for the decisive final round of the snap election Macron called after his camp received a drubbing in European elections last month.

His gamble appears to have backfired, with the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen scoring a victory in the first round of voting last Sunday.

Macron’s centrists trailed in third place behind the left-wing New Popular Front alliance.

Faced with the prospect of the far right taking power in France for the first time since the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II, Macron’s camp has begun cooperating with the New Popular Front alliance which includes the hard-left France Unbowed party.

The rivals are hoping that tactical voting will prevent the RN winning the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority.

Macron has called for a “broad” democratic coalition against the far right, with the political crisis overshadowing France’s preparations for the Olympic Games this summer.

Speaking to broadcaster TF1 on Monday evening, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal once again urged voters not to give the far-right an absolute majority.

“That would be catastrophic for the French,” he said, adding that the far-right would fuel divisions in society.

Third-place candidates who qualified for the second round have been urged to drop out to present a united front against the far right.

The deadline to decide whether to stand down is 6 pm Tuesday. According to a provisional count by AFP, more than 150 left-wing or centrist candidates have already dropped out.           

“Only a strong republican front, uniting the left, center and conservatives, can keep the far right at bay and prevent France from tipping over,” daily newspaper Le Monde said in an editorial.

Le Pen has urged voters to give the RN an absolute majority, which would see Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old RN chief with no governing experience, become prime minister.

But most projections show the RN falling short of an absolute majority — although the final outcome remains far from certain.

The RN garnered 33 percent of the vote last Sunday, compared to 28 percent for the New Popular Front alliance and just over 20 percent for Macron’s camp.

Speaking on television on Monday night, Bardella derided efforts by Macron’s camp and the left-wing coalition to put up a united front, suggesting that the “dishonorable” alliance had been formed out of desperation.

He accused the French president of coming “to the rescue of a violent extreme-left movement” he himself had denounced just days ago.

Macron convened a cabinet meeting Monday to decide a further course of action.

“Let’s not be mistaken. It’s the far right that’s on its way to the highest office, no one else,” he said at the meeting, according to one participant.

The emotion was palpable, with several ministers dropping out of the race.

“We’ve known happier meetings,” one minister told Le Monde.

Analysts say the most likely outcome of the snap election is a hung parliament that could lead to months of political paralysis and chaos.

With a total of 76 candidates elected in the first round, the final composition of the 577-seat National Assembly will be clear only after the second round.

The second round will see a three-way or two-way run-off in the remainder of the seats to be decided, although a tiny number of four-way run-offs are also possible.

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