French parties in final push for votes ahead of crunch poll

French parties in final push for votes ahead of crunch poll

France’s political forces were on Friday to make a final bid for votes in crunch legislative elections that could see the far right take control of the government in a historic first.

The official campaigning period will end at midnight followed by a day off on Saturday, during which political activity is forbidden ahead of voting Sunday. Another week of campaigning will then lead up to the decisive second round on July 7.

The far-right National Rally (RN) is tipped to win the election, potentially giving the party the post of prime minister for the first time in its history in a tense “cohabitation” with centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

“Of course, I want to avoid the extremes, especially the far right, being able to win” the ballot, Macron’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told broadcaster BFMTV Friday.

Opinion polls suggest his centrist alliance will come only third behind the RN and a broad but fragile left-wing coalition, the New Popular Front (NFP).

The RN party chief, Jordan Bardella, 28, would have a chance to lead a government as prime minister.

But he has insisted he would do so only if his party wins an absolute majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly after the second round.

His party’s path to victory could be blocked if the left and centre-right join forces against the RN in the second round of voting.

Macron has caused controversy in the past two weeks by placing the left and the far-right on the same footing, labelling both “extremes”.

Speaking in Brussels Thursday, however, he suggested that he would support moderate leftists against the far-right in the second round.

– ‘Serious message’ –

Macron also blasted the “arrogance” of the far right, which had “already allocated all the (government) jobs” before the election and questioned the president’s constitutional role as military commander in chief.

“Who are they to explain what the constitution should say?” he asked.

The RN’s three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen had ratcheted up tensions by saying that the president’s commander-in-chief title was purely “honorific”.

In the event of Macron having to share power with an RN-led government, “it’s the prime minister who holds the purse strings”, she warned.

In a televised debate late Thursday, Attal said that Le Pen’s remarks sent a  “very serious message for the security of France.”

Bardella sought to reassure voters about his party’s foreign policy, saying in the debate he would “not let Russian imperialism absorb an allied state like Ukraine”.

He said he was also opposed to sending longer range missiles to Ukraine that could hit Russian territory “and place France and the French in a situation of co-belligerence”.

“My compass is the interest of France and the French,” said Bardella.

Macron has insisted he will serve out the remainder of his second term until it expires in 2027, no matter which party emerges on top in the coming legislative contest.

Le Pen, whom opponents have long accused of having too cosy a relationship with the Kremlin, senses that this could be her best-ever chance to win the Elysee Palace after three previous attempts.

– ‘Real fear’ –

When he called the snap vote after a June 9 European Parliament election drubbing by the RN, Macron had hoped to present voters with a stark choice about whether to hand France to the far right.

An Opinionway poll of 1,058 people published Friday in business daily Les Echos predicted the RN would win 37 percent of the vote, the NFP 28 percent and Macron’s alliance just 20 percent.

In the second round, the RN “can not only envisage a relative majority, but we cannot exclude, far from it, an absolute majority,” Brice Teinturier, deputy director of competing pollster Ipsos, told AFP.

The televised debate, where Attal and Bardella were joined by Socialist leader Olivier Faure, was as ill-tempered as the first such session on Tuesday.

Attal charged that 100 RN candidates standing in the election had made “racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic comments.”

“Everything is false, utterly false,” responded Bardella, who also defended a controversial proposal to bar dual nationals from sensitive state posts.

Underscoring the stakes felt by many in France from ethnic minority backgrounds, French basketball superstar Victor Wembanyama said “for me it is important to take a distance from extremes, which are not the direction to take for a country like ours”.


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