French parties in final push for votes ahead of crunch poll

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

Official campaigning will end at midnight followed by a day off on Saturday, during which time political activity is forbidden ahead of voting on 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 on 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.

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.

Bardella was crowned France’s most popular political personality in a Toluna-Harris Interactive poll published on Friday, with 40 percent of the 1,019 people surveyed trusting him — four points higher than Macron.

But his party’s path to victory could be blocked if the left and center-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-wing coalition and the far-right on the same footing, labelling both “extremes.”

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, however, he suggested that he would support moderate leftists in a duel against the far-right.

‘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 on Thursday, Attal said that Le Pen’s remarks sent a “very serious message for the security of France.” 

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.

Bardella sought to reassure voters about the party’s foreign policy, saying in Thursday’s debate that the RN, which had warm ties with Russia before its invasion of Ukraine, 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. 

‘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 or not to hand France to the far right.  

An Opinionway poll of 1,058 people published on 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. 

Attal charged during Thursday’s debate that 100 RN candidates standing in the election had made “racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic comments” — claims Bardella denounced as “utterly false.”

The party was dragged into further controversy on its plans to bar dual nationals from key strategic state posts.

Roger Chudeau, running for re-election in the Loire-et-Cher department in central France, called Franco-Moroccan former education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem’s term a “mistake”, claiming dual nationals had “divided loyalties.”

Le Pen quickly disavowed the remarks after a hail of outrage, saying they ran “totally contrary to the RN’s plans” and were a “personal opinion.” 

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