The battle for France’s future has just begun | Elections

The left-wing coalition New Popular Front (NFP) won the most seats in the French National Assembly, thwarting fears that the far-right National Rally (RN) would win a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.

The landmark victory on Sunday for the left-wing coalition, a previously deeply divided coalition made up of the Socialists, Greens, Communists and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Indomitable France, didn’t come easily. Since its formation last month, the NFP has come under fire from both centrist elites and the far right, demonised as a threat to the future of the republic. The media environment was also highly hostile, with the discredited Horseshoe theory – that the far right and the far left are closer to each other than they are to the political centre – dominating the debate around the election.

Marine Le Pen and her protégé, RN leader Jordan Bardella, spent the weeks leading up to the election trying to rebrand the party as a new “center-right” and portray the NFP as truly “extremist.” The Left Bloc, and Mélenchon in particular, was accused of anti-Semitism for its support for Palestine, while the RN, founded by a convicted Holocaust denier, was recast as a strong pro-Israel force against anti-Semitism.

The concealment of the RN’s racist traditions and the demonisation of the NFP as “anti-Semitic” was so widespread that the mainstream media narrative after the first round of voting on 30 June was that a victory for the left would be just as harmful, if not more so, than a victory for the far right.

As centrist President Emmanuel Macron has implemented a variety of right-leaning authoritarian policies in recent years, blurring the line between center and right, the conditions seemed ripe for the RN to reassert itself as a mainstream right-wing party and ultimately take control of the French parliament.

But despite opinion polls predicting a clear victory for the RN, French voters again rejected Le Pen’s far-right policies on Sunday, putting their faith in the left instead.

The NFP came in first with 182 seats, followed by Mr Macron’s centrist, neoliberal Ensemble with 163. Ms Le Pen and Mr Bardeta’s RN only managed 143 seats, leaving them with no realistic path to forming a government.

The election night was dramatic, RN supporters were reduced to tears and many journalists covering the election seemed to struggle to comprehend the results shown to the French public.So where did the RN go wrong?

The appointment of Bardella, then 26, as president in 2022 marked the beginning of a new era for the RN. Bardella embodied many of the qualities that inspire the far-right: youth, hyper-masculinity, immigrant background, and a hard-line stance on immigration reinforced by the usual “anti-woke” techniques. He marketed himself as a mainstream political activist while skillfully promoting far-right policies such as opposing abortion rights, spreading Islamophobia, and demonizing immigrants. Most importantly, he tried to erase the party’s history of anti-Semitism and the neo-Nazi views rife among its core supporters by expressing unconditional support for Israel’s far-right regime and its bloody war against Gaza. He exploited the failure of centrist governments and authoritarian tendencies to present his party as mainstream and rapidly increased his political influence. Macron’s flirtation with the far-right policyMeasures such as the ban on social media during the protests have contributed greatly to Bardella’s efforts to show that the movement he leads with Le Pen represents mainstream patriotic populism.

Macron’s efforts to boost the party’s profile helped the RN win an overwhelming 31 percent of the vote in last month’s European Parliament elections and also topped the first round of parliamentary elections that Macron called in response.

But as the second round of the election approached and a French government led by the RN became a reality, voters made it clear that they did not want the far right to steer the country, no matter how sanctioned and media-trained it may be. Moreover, by shifting their support to the Left coalition, they made it clear that they did not subscribe to the horseshoe theory and the argument that criticism of Israel and the Gaza war is anti-Semitism and hatred.

On Sunday, Mélenchon and his new allies on the French left undoubtedly won a monumental victory. They demonstrated that the left, and its uncompromising demand for meaningful reform and social justice, rather than the “same old” of the center, is the antidote to the growing popularity of the far right. But it is too early to celebrate.

Still, the RN managed to secure well over 100 seats, more than the party has ever held before. The Left does not have enough seats to form a government on its own, meaning political turmoil is on the horizon. The RN may not be part of a government if one is formed, but it will certainly have a stronger voice in parliament. There is every reason to believe the party will put up an even stronger fight in the upcoming elections.

Nonetheless, the left still faces a significant opportunity that it cannot afford to miss.

French voters have made it clear that they are tired of the centrist and ideologically ambiguous governance offered by Macron. President Macron’s failure to revive the economy and his authoritarian policies that normalized the far right led many French voters to lean towards the RN. Now that voters have rejected the RN’s proposals, the Left has a real chance to implement its policies and chart a new course for France based on social justice, environmental protection and a foreign policy that is in line with the views and values ​​of the French people.

The NFP’s policy platform includes raising the minimum wage by a month, lowering the legal retirement age from 64 to 60, building one million new low-cost housing units over five years, and freezing the prices of basic necessities such as food, energy and gas. The government will also pay for all costs of children’s education, including food, transportation and extracurricular activities. All of this will be funded by increasing taxes on the wealthiest. The left-wing coalition also pledges to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and put an end to the current French government’s conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel and its far-right government.

Implementing this ambitious agenda could restore balance to the French political system, serve as a real long-term counterweight to the far right, and pave the way for the left’s future in a country that must urgently recover from Macron’s neoliberalism. As things stand, the left has a clear mandate to lead, and hopefully the center will not stand in the way of a left-leaning coalition government and Mélenchon can lead France back from its internal divisions.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect NDMT’s editorial policy.

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