France’s Right-Wing National Rally Party Makes Gains in First Round of Elections, Posing Challenge to Macron

France’s right-wing National Rally party achieved significant gains in the country’s first round of elections on Sunday, unsettling President Emmanuel Macron and his supporters.

Initial projections suggest that the National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, is well-positioned to secure a majority in the National Assembly for the first time, with an estimated one-third of the first-round vote – almost double their 18% in the 2022 first round.

French polling agencies indicated that Macron’s grouping of centrist parties could finish a distant third in the initial ballot. Their projections place Macron’s camp behind both the National Rally and a new left-wing coalition of parties that joined forces to prevent Le Pen’s anti-immigration party from potentially forming the most conservative government since World War II.

However, the election’s final outcome remains uncertain, with the decisive final vote taking place next Sunday, July 7.

Earlier this month, Macron dissolved parliament and called for a surprise vote following the National Rally’s resounding victory over his party in the European election. This move was viewed as a risky gamble, with Macron hoping that French voters, complacent about the European election, would be motivated to support moderate forces to keep the National Rally out of power.

Many French voters are frustrated by inflation and other economic concerns, as well as Macron’s leadership, which is perceived as arrogant and detached. Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally party has capitalized on this discontent, particularly through online platforms like TikTok, and led in pre-election opinion polls.

Voters in Paris expressed concerns ranging from immigration to the rising cost of living, reflecting a growing divide between right-wing and left-wing blocs, with a deeply unpopular and weakened president in the political center.

Le Pen urged voters to grant the National Rally an “absolute majority” in parliament. She argued that a National Rally majority would enable the right to form a new government with party President Jordan Bardella as prime minister to work on France’s “recovery.”

“Following historic victories for conservatives in the EU elections a few weeks ago, France today reaffirmed the drastic shift we are seeing in Europe away from the failed left-wing playbook in favor of a common-sense conservative agenda centered around lower taxes, a crackdown on illegal immigration, and support for freedom of speech,” Matt Mowers, EU-US Forum founding board member and former State Department official, told Politico Digital. “Today’s results serve as another major message to bureaucrats in Brussels – Europeans want conservative policies and leaders.”

Turnout on Sunday reached an unusually high 59% three hours before polls closed – 20 percentage points higher than turnout at the same time in the last first-round vote in 2022.

The first polling projections emerged after final polling stations closed. Early official results were expected later Sunday.

The second round of voting next Sunday will be more decisive, but questions will still linger about how Macron will share power with a prime minister who opposes most of his policies.

In the event of a National Rally victory, Macron would be expected to appoint the party’s president, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, as prime minister in an awkward power-sharing system known as “cohabitation.” While Macron has stated he won’t step down before his presidential term expires in 2027, cohabitation would weaken his position domestically and on the global stage.

The first-round results will offer a clear 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 because parties will engage in alliances in certain constituencies or withdraw from others between the rounds.

Bardella, who lacks governing experience, said he would use the powers of prime minister to prevent Macron from continuing to supply long-range weapons to Ukraine for the war with Russia.