How do they work and why are they so important?

By Paul Kirby, bbc news

    DANIEL DORKO/Hans Lucas/AFP Jordan Bardella (center), president of the National Rally party, looks at a model of the Airbus military drone at the Eurosatory international exhibition for the ground and air defense and security industry in Villepinte DANIEL DORKO/Hans Lucas/AFP

Could 28-year-old Jordan Bardella be France’s next prime minister?

Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call two rounds of elections on June 30 and July 7 is seen by rivals and allies as a reckless gamble that could hand political power to the far right.

He wants to regain control of French politics, but that is not what opinion polls say will happen.

Why is France holding elections?

An hour after Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party defeated Emmanuel Macron’s Renew alliance in the European elections, the French president appeared on television to say he could not act as if nothing had happened. .

After the National Rally won 31.4% of the vote to his party’s 14.6%, he said it was time for the French people and politicians “who do not recognize themselves in the extremist fever” to forge a new coalition. .

Macron had no need to call elections to the National Assembly, as they were last held in June 2022 and there were no more votes until 2027. He has since insisted that it was the “most responsible solution.”

What was Macron thinking?

Macron had apparently been thinking about calling elections for months, but France is busy preparing for the Paris Olympics from July 26 to August 11.

He clearly wanted to break a deadlock, after failing to achieve an absolute majority in the National Assembly in June 2022. Passing laws has become a real headache: he had to force the passage of pension reforms without a vote, while the rules Stricter immigration policies required the support of the National Assembly. .

Ludovic MARIN / AFP President Macron on French television on June 9Ludovic MARÍN / AFP

President Macron addressed the French people and called elections on June 9.

“France needs a clear majority if it wants to act with serenity and harmony,” argues Macron. And yet it has left French politics in turmoil.

His centrist alliance of Renaissance, Horizons and MoDem is languishing in third place and his hopes of attracting the center left have failed.

The socialists have formed a New Popular Front with the Greens, the far-left France Insoumise (LFI) and the communists.

“This decision has created concern, incomprehension and sometimes anger throughout our country, among the French people,” says Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

Why are these elections so important?

The National Rally could take over in France for the first time. It is led by Jordan Bardella, 28, and in parliament by Marine Le Pen, who has fought for the presidency three times and lost each time.

But he got more and more votes. Now polls say his party could become the largest in France, without reaching an absolute majority. Not far behind in the polls is a broad left alliance, including far-left parties.

How do French elections work?

There are 577 seats in the National Assembly, including 13 overseas districts and 11 electoral districts representing French expatriates abroad. To obtain an absolute majority a party needs 289.

The Macron alliance had only 250 seats in the outgoing Assembly and had to enlist the support of other parties each time to pass a law.

The first round eliminates all candidates who do not obtain 12.5% ​​of the votes. Anyone who gets 50% of the vote with a turnout of at least a quarter of the local electorate automatically wins. That happens in a handful of electoral districts.

The runoff is a series of second rounds involving two, three, or sometimes four candidates. Some candidates may withdraw before July 7 to give an ally a better chance of preventing a rival, for example from the far right, from winning.

.  Outgoing French National Assembly.

What will happen?

The two-round system means that nothing is clear.

Even if the National Rally qualifies for the second round in a large number of electoral districts, voters could choose to adopt “le vote utile” (tactical voting) to keep the party out.

They have 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, but polls suggest they could exceed 200.

Apart from the opinion polls, the only thing we have to follow is the result of the European elections, which gave the National Rally 31.37% of the votes and the other far-right party, Reconquête, 5.47%. Some center-right Republican supporters may support RN, but others may equally join the movement to block them, to form a “flood.”

The combined vote of the left, the Greens and the far left also exceeded 30%. But not all left-wing voters will support the New Popular Front due to the participation of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left France Insoumise (LFI).

Another factor is the turnout, which will be considerably higher than the 51% of the June 9 vote in the European Parliament.

What happens if Macron’s party loses?

Whoever wins, Macron has said he will not resign as president.

If their party loses, and the National Rally or the New Popular Front win, there are almost three years of “cohabitation,” or power-sharing, when the president of one party heads the state and another party heads the government.

It has happened before, with domestic policy in the hands of the prime minister and cabinet and foreign and defense policy in the hands of the president.

Will Jordan Bardella be Prime Minister?

Not necessarily. Macron decides who will lead the next government, according to the constitution. But he has to reflect the composition of the new Assembly, so if the National Rally is the predominant party, it could be difficult for him to elect someone else.

And if RN wins by an absolute majority, Jordan Bardella would be the obvious choice, nominated by the party itself. RN’s campaign posters proclaim him prime minister, at 28 years old he has a large presence on TikTok and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2019.

But Bardella himself has ruled out becoming prime minister if RN does not achieve that absolute majority: “I don’t want to be the president’s assistant.”

A relative majority, he said, would leave him unable to act: “I am not going to sell the French people measures or actions that I could not carry out.”

Has cohabitation existed in France before?

Not for more than 20 years, since parliamentary elections now come immediately after presidential elections and voting preferences do not change much during that time.

There have been three periods of coexistence in the past:

1997-2002 Socialist Lionel Jospin was prime minister during the government of center-right President Jacques Chirac.

1993-95 Center-right Prime Minister Edouard Balladour worked with Socialist President François Mitterrand during his second term.

1986-88 Jacques Chirac was Prime Minister during the presidency of François Mitterrand

But nothing has really prepared France for the kind of cohabitation that could occur after July 7, with the far right or elements of the far left trying to get along with a centrist president.

Jean Bernard Vernier/Sygma French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin attend the 2001 Franco-German summit in Nantes, France.Jean Bernard Vernier/Sygma

The last time France shared power was when Jacques Chirac was president and Lionel Jospin prime minister.

Is the National Group still far right?

For years, Marine Le Pen has tried to “dediabolize,” or detoxify, her party from the anti-Semitic and extremist roots of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his fellow founders of the National Front, which she renamed the National Rally.

However, its strict anti-immigration policies persist and a ruling earlier this year by the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, confirmed that it could be considered “far-right.”

French soccer captain Kylian Mbappé warned his compatriots that “the extremes are at the gates of power” and that France is “at a very important historical moment for our country.” Jordan Bardella quickly responded, criticizing billionaire “sports figures” who lecture people struggling to make ends meet.

The RN has long called for a ban on the Muslim veil in public, although Bardella has now said this would not be a priority until the next presidential election.

National Rally has received money from Russia and Marine Le Pen has been pro-Kremlin, anti-NATO and anti-EU. And yet many of his extreme positions on abandoning NATO’s integrated command and increasing ties with Russia have been quietly abandoned.

Leaving the EU has not been on the agenda since 2022. Instead, Bardella is focused on cutting VAT (sales tax) on energy and a list of 100 essential goods and repealing the Macron pension reforms in question of months.

What does the left promise?

    LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP Member of the French Parliament of "The Rebellious France" (LFI) Raquel Garrido (2nd R) embraces the first Secretary of the French Socialist Party (PS), Olivier Faure (R), as National Secretary of the Ecologists, formerly known as Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), Marine Tondelier (2nd L) and French.  La France Insoumise (LFI) deputy and member of the left-wing NUPES coalition Clémentine Autain (left) applaud LUDOVIC MARÍN/AFP

France’s left-wing and far-left parties have formed a New Popular Front

The New Popular Front is an unlikely alliance of socialists, greens, communists and France Unbreakable.

They have promised to scrap Macron’s pension and immigration reforms, and otherwise their platform is based on the idea that “it’s either the far right or us.”

President Macron has attacked the group for being “totally immigrationist” and allowing people to change their gender in his town hall, an accusation that has sparked accusations of transphobia.

The Popular Front has promised to fight anti-Semitism, although it includes far-left candidates who have been accused of making anti-Semitic comments.

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