Far right bids for power as France holds parliamentary election

PARIS — France voted on Sunday in a parliamentary run-off election that could reshape the country’s political landscape. Opinion polls forecast that the far-right National Rally (RN) will secure the most votes, though it is expected to fall short of a majority.

Such an outcome could lead to a chaotic hung parliament, weeks before the Paris Olympic Games, and undermine the authority of President Emmanuel Macron. If the nationalist, eurosceptic RN did win a majority, the pro-business, Europhile president might find himself forced into an uneasy “cohabitation.”

Marine Le Pen’s RN achieved historic gains in last Sunday’s first-round vote, raising the prospect of France’s first far-right government since World War II. However, the centrist and leftist parties’ coalition efforts over the past week have diminished Le Pen’s chances of winning an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly.

Polls suggest the RN will emerge as the dominant legislative force but will not reach the 289-seat majority that Le Pen and her 28-year-old protégé, Jordan Bardella, need to claim the prime minister’s role and steer France sharply to the right.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and will close at 6 p.m. in smaller towns and cities and at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) in larger cities. Initial projections are expected as soon as voting ends, based on partial counts from a sample of polling stations.

Much will depend on whether voters heed the calls from anti-RN alliances to block the far right from power or support far-right contenders. Raphael Glucksmann, a member of the European Parliament who led France’s leftist ticket in last month’s European vote, described Sunday’s run-off as a referendum on whether “the Le Pen family takes over this country.”

“France is on the cliff edge, and we don’t know if we’re going to jump,” he told France Inter radio last week.

Historically shunned due to its associations with racism and antisemitism, the RN has bolstered its support amid voter dissatisfaction with Macron, economic challenges, and immigration concerns. “French people have a real desire for change,” Le Pen told TF1 TV on Wednesday, expressing confidence in securing a parliamentary majority.

Even if the RN falls short of an outright majority, it is poised to more than double the 89 seats it won in the 2022 legislative vote, becoming the leading player in a potentially turbulent hung parliament that could complicate governance. This scenario risks policy paralysis until Macron’s term ends in 2027, when Le Pen is expected to launch her fourth bid for the presidency.