President Emmanuel Macron is testing the country’s support after a dramatic European Parliament election won by hardliners.

Across France, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets after President Emmanuel Macron called early elections following his party’s defeat by the far right in a recent European Parliament vote. The demonstrations are against both the far right and Macron’s decision.

In Paris, at the Place de la République, on June 15, people climbed the statue of Marianne before following the familiar route from the République to the Nation.

The new wave of demonstrations in France was sparked by the victory of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) party, which won 31.4% of the vote, led by Jordan Bardella. The coalition under Macron’s Renaissance party won only 14.6%.

Justine*, a student in Paris, has worked on campaigns for several left-wing candidates.

“RN is a party of hate based on racism, extremism and capitalism. A regime with the far right is also extremely dangerous for women’s rights,” she told Al Jazeera.

Organizers have been scrambling since Macron called early elections.

“Nobody expected this. It takes a lot of effort to organize everything, especially for small candidates. We ended up having only 15 days before they had to register. That’s not really democratic,” Justine said.

‘A very, very risky bet’

By calling new elections, to be held in two rounds on June 30 and July 7, Macron is betting that French voters will turn against the far right and set a new tone — one that will yield better results for the center in future elections.

“It’s a very, very risky bet,” said Philippe Marliere, professor of French and European politics at University College London. “He will probably lose this election.”

Macron’s party is unlikely to win a majority, and the nationalist and anti-immigration RN could win even more seats.

If the RN achieves an absolute majority in France’s parliament, the National Assembly, Bardella could become prime minister.

“The remarkable result…confirmed the rise of the far right,” said Marliere. “Never before has the extreme right exceeded the 30% threshold in a national election.”

For Justine, the French president’s agenda contributed to the normalization of “extreme” ideologies.

“Macron is not entirely innocent. He has implemented policies that align with the far right and I don’t think he is a social or human rights president,” she said.

The RN has a platform against globalization and immigration, advocating stricter border controls and fewer green policies. But in recent years, voting for the RN has become more common across France.

“In this country, the far right has become so common and normalized. What scares me most is that people are still shocked,” Rim-Sarah Alouane, a French researcher in comparative law at Toulouse Capitole University, told Al Jazeera.

Some of Macron’s policies, such as his immigration bill, appeal to traditional far-right views.

“Critics argue that [Macron] really borrowed from the RN policy playbook on immigration, Islam, all the endless culture wars, ‘wokeism,’ as the French say,” Marliere said. “People have the feeling that these [ideias] are, in the end, acceptable. People are no longer afraid to vote for the party.”

Beatrice Chappedelaine, a retired teacher living in Normandy, said she was saddened by politics and working conditions in France.

“We should not be surprised that RN is growing, given the insecurity, poverty and destitution under the current government,” said Chappedelaine, who is in his 80s.

Despite her feelings about the state of the country, she will vote in the early elections.

“I always voted. For me, it is a duty,” she said.

Although she did not reveal who she will vote for, she said it will not be for RN or the left.

Meanwhile, experts fear voter turnout could be low, with many on vacation.

Voter turnout in France in the European Parliament elections was 51.4%.

Young voters had high abstention rates: 59% for those aged 25 to 34 and 51% for those aged 18 to 24.

“What worries me is the timing: dissolving the National Assembly when people are going on vacation. Abstention is already very high. The far right won because people didn’t go to vote,” said Alouane.

‘The left could be the real surprise’

The left formed an alliance, the Popular Front, to try to unite voters.

His platform promises to raise wages, lower the retirement age from 64 to 60, provide better protections for asylum seekers and climate refugees, and support stronger climate policies.

“The left could be the real surprise in this election,” Marliere said. “It is possible that the left will come in second place [após o RN]all left-wing parties now grouped together in this coalition called the Popular Front.”

But the coalition does not represent unity.

“The Popular Front is, above all, an electoral coalition,” said Marliere. “It’s not that, suddenly, the left is a bloc and has a new name. Certainly not. It is there to serve a purpose: to launch a single candidate per constituency, because if they don’t do that, they will be eliminated in the first round.”

Baptiste Colin, a 29-year-old theater producer from Lyon, has reservations about the coalition.

“I think a coalition is possible, but on the left, there is no clear leader. We are missing a strong media personality,” Colin told Al Jazeera.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, president of the far-right French party National Rally (Rassemblement National – RN), depart after a press conference to present political priorities [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

RN captured young voters, winning the support of 30% of 18-24 year-olds and 28% of 25-34 year-olds in the June 9 election.

“The left does not feel heard. I voted for Macron in 2022 and against Le Pen, but I feel that he made the RN become something more respectable. It seems that today he is saying that the RN can govern, and we have to choose between the RN and Macron,” said Colin.

Some of France’s biggest social media influencers have spoken out against the RN, urging their followers to vote.

France’s biggest YouTuber, Squeezie, who has 19 million followers, published a post on June 14 saying it was important to “react for the good of all the country’s citizens against a hateful and destructive ideology.”

Macron’s majority problems

President Macron’s coalition lost its absolute majority in parliament in 2022, hampering efforts to pass domestic reforms.

Since then, his government has resorted to sending legislation without a vote in parliament using Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, including his controversial pension bill.

This lack of room to maneuver to lead as he had hoped may be the reason he decided to dissolve parliament on June 9, according to Marliere.

“It has been extremely difficult for your party to govern, to pass legislation because there is no absolute majority,” he said. “I think Macron feels that he hasn’t really been able to govern as he wanted because of this situation. So, his room for maneuver was very limited. His wings were clipped, so to speak.”

Jacques Chirac, a conservative, was the last president to call early elections in 1997, when the left won a majority. He then had to spend five years governing with the left.

Regardless of their political affiliations, French voters are well aware of how critical the upcoming vote is.

“Historically, legislative elections didn’t seem that important. They are not the presidential election, but now they have become essential,” said Colin.

“I know a lot of people who didn’t vote two weeks ago because they didn’t feel like it or were out of town, but they will vote now because it’s so much more important.”

Source: News Agencies.


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