The stakes are high, the fight is tough and the party of centrist President Emmanuel Macron is the one to beat. But for a visitor from outer space, the June legislative elections in France could look like a competition between the far right and the far left.
A month before the first ballot, the campaign for the 577 seats in the lower house of the French parliament was brutal. Pressure has been mounting since the presidential election in April, when Macron won a second term, defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round to overturn his third candidacy.
The pot boiled when Le Pen’s political enemy, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, struck alliances with a swath of left-wing parties, positioning himself to outdo both her and, hopefully, he, Macron, in June.
So for now, Le Pen sees Melenchon as her main opponent, as she seeks to keep her National Rally party politically relevant with a strong performance in parliament.
His party’s campaign slogan, “The only opposition to Macron”, testifies to his rivalry with the leader of the far left.
Melenchon himself, strong in his alliances, has set his goals higher, saying he will steal Macron’s majority to become France’s next prime minister – a nomination made by the president alone.
Le Pen’s hopes are less grandiose: to create a “powerful” parliamentary group – at least 15 lawmakers – that would grant his anti-immigration party more speaking time and other privileges so that he could be heard and harass the powerful.
Le Pen mocks Melenchon by calling him a “court jester” who will never be prime minister. But with enough votes, she told RTL radio this week, Mélenchon could turn the National Assembly into a squatter’s paradise for leftist causes, “with defenders of the Black Blocs (anarchists), defenders of the burkinis , those who want to disarm the police, those who want to open prisons because prisons are not pleasant.
For the interim president of her party, Melenchon represents “a threat to the Republic”.
“I think extremism today is on Mr. Mélenchon’s side,” Jordan Bardella told a news conference, using the precise label the French press favors for his own extreme party. right.
Le Pen and Mélenchon are longtime political enemies. But for Le Pen the animosity has clearly deepened with Mélenchon’s leftist alliance with the Socialists, Communists and Greens strengthening his hand. Le Pen’s party refused an alliance with far-right upstart presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who stole some of his party’s high-profile figures but finished with just 7% of the vote.
Paradoxically, while Le Pen ranks second in the presidential race, against Mélenchon’s third place, and brings the extreme right to an unprecedented electoral performance, his party approaches the legislative elections of June 12 and 19 in a position of weakness that Mélenchon , supported by his alliances.
France’s legislative voting system favors the president and virtually prevents Le Pen’s party from clinging deeply to a majority. Only eight lawmakers from the National Rally won seats in the last election. Le Pen, who is seeking to renew his seat, is one of the 569 candidates his party is presenting in France.
“It’s a very brutal campaign… At the same time, it’s a campaign where there is no real debate, where many French people have the impression that their daily problems have not been resolved”, said said far-right expert Jean-Yves. Camus. It is also, he added, “a rather surreal campaign with Mr. Mélenchon saying: ‘Me, prime minister'”.
Macron’s party and its centrist allies hold more than 300 seats in the outgoing parliament. Yet his Republic on the March changed its name to Renaissance and allied itself with other centrists.
“This will be the toughest campaign,” the president warned his party’s candidates this week. “Our country is divided.”
Divisions, drama and harsh rhetoric are nothing new in French elections.
“France is a country where the political tradition is extremely divisive,” Camus said. “You feel like two parts of the country are struggling to talk to each other.”
The Independent Gt