World

Voting under way in French parliamentary elections

President Emmanuel Macron called a snap poll after his centrists were trounced in European elections.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, votes for the second round of the legislative elections in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (Mohammed Badra/AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, votes for the second round of the legislative elections in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (Mohammed Badra/AP) (Thomas Padilla/AP)

Voting has begun in mainland France on Sunday in pivotal runoff elections that could hand a historic victory to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and its inward-looking, anti-immigrant vision or produce a hung parliament and political deadlock.

French President Emmanuel Macron took a huge gamble in dissolving parliament and calling for the elections after his centrists were trounced in European elections on June 9.

The snap elections in this nuclear-armed nation will influence the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy and Europe’s economic stability, and they are almost certain to undercut President Emmanuel Macron for the remaining three years of his presidency.

The first round on June 30 saw the largest gains ever for the anti-immigration, nationalist National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen.

A bit over 49 million people are registered to vote in the elections, which will determine which party controls the 577-member National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament, and who will be prime minister.

As of 5pm local time, turnout was at 59.7%, according to France’s interior ministry, the highest at that time on a voting day since 1981.

If support is further eroded for Mr Macron’s weak centrist majority, he will be forced to share power with parties opposed to most of his pro-business, pro-European Union policies.

A voter casts his ballot for the second round (Louise Delmotte/AP)
A voter casts his ballot for the second round (Louise Delmotte/AP) (Louise Delmotte/AP)

Voters at a Paris polling station were acutely aware of the the far-reaching consequences for France and beyond.

“The individual freedoms, tolerance and respect for others is what at stake today,” said Thomas Bertrand, a 45-year-old voter who works in advertising.

Racism and antisemitism have marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian cybercampaigns, and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked, highly unusual for France.

The government is deploying 30,000 police on voting day.

The heightened tensions come while France is celebrating a very special summer: Paris is about to host exceptionally ambitious Olympic Games, the national soccer team reached the semi-final of the Euro 2024 championship, and the Tour de France is racing around the country alongside the Olympic torch.

France’s prime minister Gabriel Attal cast his ballot in the Paris suburb of Vanves on Sunday morning.

Mr Macron voted later in the seaside town of Le Touquet.

Ms Le Pen is not voting, because her district in northern France is not holding a second round after she won the seat outright last week.

Across France, 76 other candidates secured seats in the first round, including 39 from her National Rally and 32 from the leftist New Popular Front alliance.

Two candidates from Mr Macron’s centrists list also won their seats in the first round.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal leaves the polling booth (Alain Jocard/AP)
French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal leaves the polling booth (Alain Jocard/AP) (Alain Jocard/AP)

The elections wrap up on Sunday at 8pm (1800 GMT) in mainland France and on the island of Corsica. Initial polling projections are expected on Sunday night, with early official results expected late Sunday and early Monday.

In the restive French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, a pro-independence Indigenous Kanak candidate has won a seat over a loyalist candidate in the second round of voting.

Emmanuel Tjibaou is a political novice and a son of a well-known Kanak independence leader, Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who was assassinated in 1989. He is the first pro-independence candidate to win a seat in the National Assembly since 1986.

Right-wing candidate and French loyalist Nicolas Metzdorf has won New Caledonia’s second parliament seat.

Voters residing in the Americas and in France’s overseas territories of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana and French Polynesia voted on Saturday.

The elections could leave France with its first far-right government since the Nazi occupation in the Second World War if the National Rally wins an absolute majority and its 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella becomes prime minister.

The party came out on top in the previous week’s first-round voting, followed by a coalition of centre-left, hard-left and Green parties, and Macron’s centrist alliance.

Mr Macron is meeting leaders from his weakened majority alliance before polls close on Sunday. Among those present is Mr Attal, according to an aide to the president who spoke on condition of anonymity.