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Far Right in France “On the Doorstep of Power” as National Rally Surges in Snap Election

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France’s far right has won the first round of voting in a snap election, followed closely by the left, as President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition is trounced. We go to Paris for an update as the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen shocked the French establishment after winning the most votes in the first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday. A broad alliance of left-wing parties calling itself the New Popular Front came second, while President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist bloc fell to third place. Macron called the snap election after the National Rally won the most seats in last month’s vote for European Parliament, even though his own presidential term runs until 2027. A second round of voting on July 7 will decide the final makeup of the National Assembly, but if the National Rally wins outright, it will mark the first time the far right has governed in France since the Nazi occupation during World War II. “This decision was timed at a moment when the far right was at its strongest historical position in modern French political history, and they’ve capitalized on that,” says Harrison Stetler, an independent journalist and teacher based in Paris. He says that while the left has already committed to forming “a republican front against the far right,” Macron’s centrist forces have sent “mixed signals” on joining forces after a campaign in which they recklessly portrayed both the left and the right as equally dangerous to the country.

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StoryJul 08, 2024“The Whole Country of France Has Won”: Far Right Blocked from Power as Left Surges
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in France, where the far right is at the gates of power as it holds a significant lead in the first round of snap parliamentary elections Sunday — a blow to President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble alliance, which polled third to the right and to the left. Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Rally, NR, bloc has so far clinched nearly 34% of the vote, while the New Popular Front, a coalition formed by leftist parties, came in second with about 28% of the vote. This is far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

MARINE LE PEN: [translated] My dear compatriots, democracy has spoken, and the French people have placed the National Rally and its allies on top and have practically erased Macron’s bloc.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, hundreds of people took to the streets of Paris and other cities Sunday following news of the initial results. Protesters held signs that read “Let’s not leave France to the fascists” and “Enough of the hatred era.”

IMANNE MBOUOMBOUO: [translated] It worries me, personally, because we see that the National Rally are on top, and it scares me. We don’t see a vote coming for social rights. We don’t see economic progress. We don’t see immigration. It will worsen rights for LGBT, for women, abortion, medically assisted procreation. All of this will be swept away, because it’s the far right. We mustn’t forget that.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunday’s election brought out the highest voter turnout in years as young French voters were urged to come out to defeat extremists. Leaders of the newly formed leftist New Popular Front also joined mass protests against the rise of the far right, vowing a complete break with Macron’s policies. This is Mathilde Pinault, head of France Unbowed, speaking from Paris last month.

MATHILDE PINAULT: [translated] Popular mobilization is the key to fight against the extreme right and to beat the extreme right. We say regularly that the European elections marked the after-Macron period.

AMY GOODMAN: Macron stunned France calling for the snap elections, following major losses in European Parliament elections last month to the far-right National Rally party. The RN has announced 28-year-old Jordan Bardella as its candidate for prime minister. The party has steadily risen in popularity across France as it backs anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist and anti-Muslim policies. It’s also been accused of antisemitism. Many have urged parties to unite against the RN as the second round of the elections is scheduled for Sunday, July 7th.

For more, we go to Paris, where we’re joined by Harrison Stetler, a freelance journalist and teacher. His latest piece for Jacobin is titled “Corporate France Is Making Peace With Marine Le Pen.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Harrison. Can you start off by just describing what took place?

HARRISON STETLER: Yeah, of course. Hi, Amy. Thanks so much for having me on.

I mean, first off, I wish I could say that these results were surprising, were not to be expected. I mean, in electoral politics, you somewhat can occasionally expect to have pleasant surprises in elections. This, unfortunately, is what we — what many observers, what many people in France have seen coming for several weeks, from the day that Emmanuel Macron made the shocking decision in early June to dissolve the National Assembly, on the backs of what was a historic victory for the National Rally in the European elections, as you presented in your introduction. I would say the gut reaction on the ground in Paris, in political circles here, in the mainstream media, there’s — the impression one has is a certain sense of vertigo across the board. I mean, the headline of Le Monde today, the front-page cover of Le Monde today, is “The Far Right Is on the Doorstep of Power,” and it seems like that says it all. I mean, this has been building for many weeks.

The decision to dissolve Parliament is going to — by Macron a few weeks ago, is going to occupy many analysts for many years to come. What was Macron really thinking? Was it a longshot attempt to reinforce himself? Was it a cynical ploy to perhaps introduce the far right to power if only to weaken it? That is going to be resolved by historians and whatnot. But now what is clear is that this decision was timed at a moment when the far right was at its strongest historical position in modern French political history, and they’ve capitalized on that. They’ve sailed in the momentum of the European elections into a strong first-place finish.

You said, yes, 33.5% of the vote, according to the latest statistics that I’ve seen of yesterday’s first-round vote in these legislative elections. But really, I mean, those figures are — as a percentage, that can maybe be cause for some, perhaps, undue relief. I mean, 33, that’s a third. There are two-thirds of the French electorate that are, therefore, still opposed.

I mean, if you even really dig into these numbers, the upwards of 10.5 — according to the latest figures I’ve seen, 10.5 million people who voted for Marine Le Pen’s party, under the list of Jordan Bardella, the official president of the National Rally, something like 10.6, according to the latest figures, for the first round votes. That’s more than about 6 or 7 million voters compared to the legislative elections in 2022, when the party won something like 4.2 million votes. That’s just an enormous, enormous surge in two years’ time, for a party that relatively recently was considered beyond the pale of legitimacy and acceptability in French politics. I mean, much of the rhetoric of French political culture in the late 20th, early 21st century — obviously, one can question the sincerity of it, but much of the rhetoric of French politics, up until very, very recently — and we should perhaps discuss this shift — was about projecting the far right as the one unacceptable alternative to legitimate republican politics.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about who Marine Le Pen is, of course, who inherited what was known, what, as the National Front from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. This is a whole family affair, right? It’s her nephew-in-law that’s Jordan Bardella, who would be the prime minister if the NR wins.

HARRISON STETLER: Right, right. So, Marine Le Pen took over control of the National Rally about 10 years ago, in early 2010s. Before, as you mentioned, this far-right force was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the early 1970s. And in early 1970s, up until, really, the Marine Le Pen era, this was the bête noire of French political life. It was a party that brought together skinheads, neofascists, a lot of hard-right conservatives in southern France, but specifically people who were mostly driven by, obviously, a staunch opposition to immigration, and a party that traces its roots back to sort of nostalgics of the Vichy regime, hard-right French people who just never accepted the defeats of France in the Algerian War of Independence, early 1960s. So, this was sort of the — yeah, the bête noire of French political life were these forces.

In the early 2010s, Marine Le Pen, when she took over the reins of her party, I mean, the constant framing of the Marine Le Pen shift in the early 2010s is that she moved to — the term the French use is to “dediabolize” what was then called the National Front. In 2019, she changed the name to the Rassemblement National, which means the National Rally. And so, the main narrative of the Le Pen years — and, obviously, this narrative leaves out all the continuity over the transfer between Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen. But the main narrative of the last 12, 10 years of the National Rally’s history or the National Front’s history is Marine Le Pen’s attempt to detoxify the party. She actually moved to expel her father a few years ago on account of further outrageous Holocaust-denying claims that he made.

And her broad strategy to do this has been to try to present a force that is more or less capable of government, can be amenable to traditional conservative elites. On the other hand, you had an attempt by Marine Le Pen in the 2010s to mark somewhat of a shift from sort of the original economic positions of the far-right National Rally, which in her father’s years, essentially, was the French version of Reaganism, whereas much of the traditional center-right, up until the 2000s, had an at least rhetorical support for the French welfare state, defending certain sort of social institutions that maintain the peace between businesses and workers. The original National Front was very much sort of alleged to be the defender of sort of the small entrepreneur against big business in collusion with state, state actors. And Marine Le Pen orchestrated a shift towards a sort of more workerist, economic populist position, which in recent weeks, actually, has essentially been dropped out of the arena. And what we’ve seen in the last two weeks as the party essentially prepares itself for a likely position of government, from perhaps next week, is that it is reshoring itself of many of the sort of economic populist positions that Le Pen long held, in an attempt to impress or assuage the concerns of many figures in the French corporate community.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we only have a minute or two left, and I wanted to ask about the closing the borders, anti-immigrant mantra of this party. And also, I mean, when you have a close second of the left, if the left were to combine with Macron’s forces, the center, which were trounced, that would certainly beat out the far right. Is that a possibility in this July 7th final election?

HARRISON STETLER: Oh, of course. To respond to the first question, I mean, if there’s been shifts back to the original pro-business planks of the far right, what it has clung to absolutely is its staunchly xenophobic rejection of immigration. We’re going to see an attempt — if they’re in power, in a position of government, an attempt to fully accelerate and expedite the process for expulsion of immigrants in France, zero-tolerance policies, attempts to institute a firm division between French nationals and non-French nationals, even between French nationals and binational French citizens, people who have a second passport. So, the party is — there’s more that connects it to its past than that distinguishes it.

To respond to the second question, which really is the question over the next specifically 24 hours, but mostly until Sunday, is: What are the other political forces going to do in this situation? I mean, the National Rally and the faction of the center-right that they’re allied with are in a very commanding position, are in first place in the majority of runoffs for next Sunday. And what can the other forces do? I mean, to the left’s credit, the New Popular Front’s alliance, they have put out a very fair offer, a very reasonable proposition, to withdraw all left-wing candidates from districts in which the left-wing candidate qualified for the second round runoff but is in third place behind another figure of either Macron’s bloc, the Macronist centrist coalition, or the wing of the center-right that allied — that did not ally with Le Pen. So, the left as made it very clear that they are willing to move to reconstitute something along the lines of what the French over the last several decades have called the republican front against the far right.

Now, if you look to what’s happening in the Macronist center, you’re getting anything but clarity in that regard. You have — Macron put out a very sort of vague sentence about the desire to have a democratic and republican alliance. You hear some figures say that, yes, they will pull out from certain districts, certain constituencies, when the alternate candidate in second or first place ahead of them against the National Rally is someone that they deem republican enough and respectful enough of republican institutions —

AMY GOODMAN: Just to be clear on that point — just to be clear on that, you have the leftist New Popular Front saying their candidates would stand down if they were in third place, came out — you know, there were like 300 candidates. Macron’s coalition has not yet stated their candidates would step down if they were in third place.

HARRISON STETLER: Right, you’re hearing mixed — you’re hearing mixed signals. You have an acknowledgment of a willingness on Macron’s part, yes, to withdraw candidacies.

Again, what Macron’s communication, what the center-right’s communication is, is that France Insoumise, the dominant force in the left-wing New Popular Front alliance, is essentially as dangerous as Le Pen. I mean, this is — little has done more harm to France’s political debate than this equivalency drawn between the left-wing France Insoumise and Marine Le Pen. And over the next week, we’re going to see the degree to which that will hamstring any attempt to build some form of republican front alliance to block the far right. But for much of the French political class, for much of the mainstream media organizations, and for many pundits that will do the rounds on television networks or that will be signing many of the columns in weekly magazines of the next week, they will have this line of the far-left France Insoumise is an antisemitic force, is an equal threat to republican order. And it’s an extremely, extremely dangerous equivalency that it’s drawn. And really, it’s something that touches, too, I think, the core of the broad cultural and political shifts that have led us to this point where we are today, with the far right in a very strong position and reasonably confident of potentially winning an absolute majority, or at least being in a position to form a relative majority and have potentially a minority government from next week.

AMY GOODMAN: Harrison Stetler, independent journalist and teacher based in Paris. His latest piece for Jacobin, “Corporate France Is Making Peace With Marine Le Pen.”

Up next, power grab. We’ll look at the Chevron decision and more of the U.S. Supreme Court. Stay with us.

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