French Voters Head to Polls in High-Stakes Parliamentary Elections

French voters turned out in large numbers on Sunday for the first round of parliamentary elections, which could potentially lead to nationalist and far-right parties gaining control of the government. The outcome of these two-round elections, set to conclude on July 7, could have significant implications for European financial markets, Western support for Ukraine, and the management of France’s nuclear arsenal and global military force.

Many French voters expressed frustration with economic concerns, including inflation, as well as President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, which they perceive as arrogant and disconnected from their lives. Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally party has capitalized on this discontent, particularly through online platforms like TikTok, and has led in pre-election opinion polls. The New Popular Front, a left-wing coalition that includes the French Socialists, Communists, greens, and the hard-left France Unbowed party, also poses a challenge to Macron and his centrist alliance Together for the Republic. They have vowed to reverse unpopular economic changes, such as the pension reform law that raised the retirement age to 64.

A total of 49.5 million registered voters will choose the 577 members of the National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament. Turnout stood at an unusually high 59% with three hours remaining before polls closed, which is 20 percentage points higher than the last first-round vote in 2022. The high turnout could potentially impact the outcome for the National Rally, as voters made an extra effort to cast their ballots for fear of the party’s success.

The first polling projections were expected at 8 p.m., when the final polling stations closed. Early official results were anticipated later on Sunday. Macron voted in Le Touquet, while Le Pen cast her vote in Hennin-Beaumont, her party’s stronghold. Voters in Paris expressed concerns ranging from immigration to the rising cost of living, reflecting the country’s growing divide between the far right and far left blocs.

Macron called for early elections after his party suffered a defeat in the European Parliament election in June, where the National Rally emerged victorious. The party has historical ties to racism, antisemitism, and Russia, and is hostile towards France’s Muslim community. Macron’s gamble was to mobilize voters who were complacent during the European election to support moderate forces in the national elections and prevent the far right from gaining power. However, pre-election polls indicate that the National Rally is gaining support and has a chance at winning a parliamentary majority.

The results of the first round will provide an indication of voter sentiment, but not necessarily the overall composition of the next National Assembly. Predictions are challenging due to the complex voting system and the possibility of parties forming alliances or withdrawing between the rounds. In the past, such maneuvers have prevented far-right candidates from assuming power, but support for Le Pen’s party has grown significantly.

The National Rally’s president, Jordan Bardella, who lacks governing experience, has expressed intentions to use the powers of prime minister to halt Macron’s supply of long-range weapons to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. The party has also questioned the right to citizenship for individuals born in France and seeks to curtail the rights of French citizens with dual nationality, raising concerns about human rights and France’s democratic ideals.

The left-wing coalition’s significant public spending promises, along with those of the National Rally, have raised concerns about France’s heavy debt and its impact on financial markets. The campaign has been marred by rising hate speech, reflecting the deep divisions within the country.

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