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France in limbo after Macron poll gamble backfires

PARIS: France was faced with an unsettling political vacuum Monday after snap elections called by President Emmanuel Macron to reshape the political landscape failed to clear a path to a new government. The left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) won most seats in Sunday’s second-round parliamentary vote, beating both Macron’s centrists and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN).

But no group wields an outright majority and no obvious candidate for prime minister has emerged. Many in France were overjoyed by the outcome, and cheering crowds gathered in eastern Paris to celebrate Le Pen’s defeat, but potentially divisive talks on forming a new government were just beginning, three weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal visited the Elysee Palace to submit his resignation to Macron, but was asked to remain in power in a caretaker capacity to see out the Games — and reassure the international community and the markets that France still has a government. Macron’s office said, after the meeting, that the president had thanked Attal for leading the centrist alliance in the European and legislative elections and asked him to stay “for the time being in order to ensure the stability of the country”.

The Paris stock exchange opened 0.49 percent down, but soon jumped back into positive territory as France digested the situation, unprecedented in recent history. International reaction was muted and mixed. France’s EU partners are relieved that Le Pen’s eurosceptic outfit will not come to power, where they could endanger future European integration and western support for Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration was “somewhat relieved over what didn’t happen”, spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. Moscow, meanwhile, tried to mask its disappointment. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would have preferred a win by “political forces ready to make the efforts to restore our bilateral relationships” but now harbored neither “hope nor particular illusion on this matter”.

In Paris, Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said the NFP’s allied parties would choose a candidate to replace Attal, “either by consensus or a vote”, this week. But the debate on the left about cabinet names will be fierce. The biggest NFP component is the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, a divisive figure who is anathema to the right and center and has alienated many fellow leftists. The unprecedented situation is taking shape just as Macron is due to be out of the country for most of the week, taking part in the NATO summit in Washington.

After they won the June 30 first round of the elections by a clear margin, Sunday’s results were a major disappointment for Le Pen’s RN, despite boasting its biggest ever contingent in parliament. Macron’s centrist alliance will have dozens fewer members of parliament, but held up better than expected and could even end up in second when seat numbers are confirmed.

The left-wing NFP — formed last month after Macron called snap elections — brought the previously deeply divided Socialists, Greens, Communists and the hard-left LFI together. Projections and provisional results show the NFP will be the largest bloc in the new National Assembly with around 190 seats, Macron’s alliance on around 160 seats and the RN on about 140. No group is close to the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority.

Only one week ago, some polls had indicated the RN could win just such an absolute majority, with Le Pen’s 28-year-old lieutenant Jordan Bardella becoming prime minister. Instead he will remain an MEP. The RN’s leader in the French parliament, Le Pen, who plans to launch a fourth bid for the presidency in 2027, declared: “The tide is rising. It did not rise high enough this time, but it continues to rise and, consequently, our victory has only been delayed.” The question for France now is if this alliance of last resort can support a stable government, dogged by a still substantial RN bloc in parliament led by Le Pen.

Despite the uncertainty, some voters were happy with a three-way parliament. “I think it’s great to have a diverse assembly like this, with roughly equal groupings. They will have to get along,” Valerie, who works in luxury, said in Paris. In Boulogne-sur-Mer, in northern France, 61-year-old retired fisherman Denis Dewet, drawing parallels with presidential elections, said: “It’s because France doesn’t like the extremes.” – Agencies

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