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French left coalition comes out on top in elections, in shock upset over the far right

Participants gather during an election night rally following the first results of the second round of France's legislative election at Place de la Republique in Paris on Sunday.
Emmanuel Dunand
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AFP via Getty Images
Participants gather during an election night rally following the first results of the second round of France's legislative election at Place de la Republique in Paris on Sunday.

Updated July 07, 2024 at 18:51 PM ET

PARIS — After the shock of French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call snap elections last month, another surprise came for French voters as polls for the runoff vote closed Sunday evening: The far-right National Rally party did not receive the majority of the parliamentary seats pollsters had predicted. It didn't even come close.

With voter turnout at its highest rate in more than 40 years, initial estimates suggested the highest number of seats would go to the New Popular Front, a left-wing coalition that quickly banded together just days after Macron announced that legislative elections would take place.

Founder of left-wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) Jean-Luc Melenchon waves at supporters on the election night in Paris on Sunday.
Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
The founder of left-wing party France Unbowed, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, waves at supporters on the election night in Paris on Sunday.

"The will of the people must be strictly respected," Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, told a crowd of hundreds of supporters in northern Paris Sunday evening, declaring the results as a victory for the newly formed alliance, adding the results were evidence of the country’s refusal of a far-right government. “Our people have clearly rejected the worst-case scenario,” he said. “Tonight, the National Rally is far from having an absolute majority.”

Early results put the left-wing New Popular Front with the most seats, but short of an absolute majority needed to govern; Macron’s centrist Ensemble coalition in second; and the far-right National Rally in third. Final results were expected early Monday, but with no party reaching an absolute majority, the country’s future remains uncertain.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced his resignation about an hour after the results came in Sunday evening, and Macron will be under pressure to appoint someone from the leftist coalition.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, votes for the second round of the legislative elections in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, northern France, on Sunday.
Mohammed Badra / AP
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AP
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, votes for the second round of the legislative elections in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, northern France, on Sunday.

The elections, which had a 67.1% turnout, the highest in over 40 years, point to a broad rejection of a far-right government. Even if the National Rally — known by its French initials RN — did make its most significant gains in the party’s history, its campaign has been tainted by accusations of racism and antisemitism.

At the National Rally electoral base in eastern Paris, supporters watched in shock and disbelief as the initial vote numbers came in on a giant TV screen. “I’m incredibly disappointed, but democracy has spoken,” Joscelin Cousin, a 19-year-old party supporter, told NPR minutes after the early results were announced. “I suppose people are still afraid of the false caricature image that RN has spent years working to dispel,” he said. Stacks of celebratory champagne flutes were barely touched as the crowd quickly dispersed.

Party leader Marine Le Pen was nowhere to be seen, instead sending out her young protégé and party president 28-year-old Jordan Bardella to give a somber speech acknowledging the party’s underwhelming results.

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Copyright 2024 NPR

Corrected: July 8, 2024 at 1:56 PM EDT
A previous version of this story mistakenly called Marine Le Pen's party the National Party. It is the National Rally party.
Rebecca Rosman
[Copyright 2024 NPR]