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PARIS: French voters face a crucial vote on July 7 in a second round of snap parliamentary elections that could produce the country’s first far-right government since World War II Nazi occupation – or no majority at all.
Forecasts by polling agencies suggest the far-right National Assembly has a strong chance of winning a majority in the lower house of parliament for the first time, but the outcome remains uncertain due to the complex voting system.

In Sunday’s first round, the National Rally came in ahead with an estimated third of the votes. The New Popular Front coalition, which includes center-left, green and hard-left forces, came second, ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance.
Here’s a closer look:
How does it work?
The French system is complex and not adequate for nationwide party support. Legislators are elected by district.
More than 60 candidates who won at least 50 percent of the vote on Sunday were elected directly.

In addition, the top two candidates qualify for the runoff, along with anyone else who receives support from more than 12.5 percent of registered voters.

Three people made it to the second round in many districts, although some tactics to block far-right candidates have already been announced: The Left Coalition has said it will withdraw its candidates in districts when they come in third to support other anti-far-right politicians to the right. Macron’s centrist alliance also said some of its candidates would withdraw before the second round of the election to block the National Assembly.
This makes the outcome of the second round uncertain, despite polls showing that the National Assembly Party has a good chance of winning an absolute majority, at least 289 of the 577 seats.

The National Assembly, the lower house, is the most powerful of the two chambers of the French Parliament. He has the final say in the lawmaking process over the conservative-dominated Senate.
Macron has a presidential mandate until 2027 and has said he will not step down before the end of his term.
What is cohabitation?
If the National Assembly or a political force other than his centrist alliance wins a majority, Macron will be forced to appoint a prime minister who belongs to that new majority.
In such a situation – called “cohabitation” in France – the government would introduce policies that deviate from the president’s plan.

The modern French republic has experienced three coexistences, the last under conservative President Jacques Chirac, with Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002.
The Prime Minister is responsible to the Parliament, leads the government and submits draft laws.
“In the case of cohabitation, the prime minister’s policies are basically applied,” said political historian Jean Garrigues.

French President Emmanuel Macron leaves a polling station before casting his vote at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France June 30, 2024. (POOL/AFP)

The president is weakened at home during cohabitation, but still has some powers in foreign policy, European affairs, and defense because he is in charge of negotiating and ratifying international treaties. The president is also the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces and holds the nuclear codes.
“The president can prevent or temporarily suspend the implementation of a certain number of premier projects, as he has the power to sign or not sign government regulations or decrees,” Garrigues added.
“However, the Prime Minister has the power to submit these regulations and decrees to the National Assembly for a vote, thereby overriding the President’s reluctance,” he noted.
Who conducts defense and foreign policy?
Defense and foreign policy were, during previous coexistences, considered the informal “reserved field” of the president, who was usually able to find compromises with the prime minister to allow France to speak abroad with one voice.
Nevertheless, the views of both the far-right and the left-wing coalition today differ radically from Macron’s approach in these areas and would likely be the subject of tension during a potential coexistence.
According to the constitution, while “the president is the head of the military, it is the prime minister who has the armed forces at his disposal,” Garrigues said.
“Even in the diplomatic field, the circle of the president is considerably limited,” added Garrigues.

Jordan Bardella, head of France’s far-right National Assembly party, reacts on stage after the partial results of the first round of early French parliamentary elections in Paris June 30, 2024. (REUTERS)

Far-right leader Jordan Bardella, who could become prime minister if his party wins a majority of seats, said he intended “to be a prime minister in cohabitation who respects the constitution and the role of the president of the republic, but is uncompromising on the policy that we will to implement.”
Bardella said that if he were to become prime minister, he would be against sending French troops to Ukraine – a possibility Macron did not rule out. Bardella also said he would reject French deliveries of long-range missiles and other weapons capable of hitting targets inside Russia itself.
What happens if there is no majority?
The president can appoint a prime minister from the caucus with the most seats in the National Assembly — this has been the case with Macron’s own centrist alliance since 2022.
But the National Assembly has already said it will reject such an option because it would mean the far-right government could soon be ousted by a no-confidence vote if other political parties unite.
The president could try to build a broad coalition from the left to the right, which is unlikely given the political differences.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal hoped to have enough centrist lawmakers on Sunday to build “most projects and ideas” with other “republican forces” that may include center-left and center-right forces.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal delivers a speech in the courtyard of the Prime Minister’s residence in Paris on June 30, 2024. (AP)

Experts say another complex option would be to appoint a “government of experts” that would not be linked to political parties but would still have to be approved by a majority in the National Assembly. Such a government would probably be more concerned with day-to-day affairs than implementing major reforms.
If the political talks take too long during the summer holidays and from July 26 to August. At the 11th Paris Olympics, Garrigues said a “transitional period” was not ruled out, during which Macron’s centrist government would “still be in charge of current affairs” until further decisions are made.
“Whatever the National Assembly looks like, the Constitution of the 5th Republic appears to be flexible enough to survive these difficult circumstances,” Melody Mock-Gruet, a public law expert who teaches at Sciences Po Paris, said in a written note. “Institutions are stronger than they appear, even in the face of this experimental exercise.”
“But there remains another unknown in the equation: the population’s ability to accept the situation,” Mock-Gruet wrote.

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