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Tuesday July 5th, 2022 6:40PM

France awakens to an emboldened Le Pen after far-right gains

By The Associated Press
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PARIS (AP) — France awakened to an ecstatic Marine Le Pen on Monday after her party's far-right candidates for parliament sent shockwaves through the political establishment and helped deny President Emmanuel Macron's centrist alliance an absolute majority.

Le Pen’s National Rally party didn’t win the two rounds of voting in the parliamentary election, which ended Sunday. But it secured more than 10 times the seats it won five years ago.

It was only a couple of months ago that Le Pen lost the presidential election to Macron. But now it was her turn to gloat, since she knows she can use the seats in the National Assembly to thwart Macron's domestic agenda and even trigger a no-confidence vote.

And she beamed with pride, calling the outcome a “historic victory” and a “seismic event” in French politics.

Many voters opted for her far-right party or for leftist candidates, leaving Macron's alliance significantly weakened despite having the most seats.

Le Pen’s National Rally got 89 seats in the 577-member parliament, up from a previous total of eight. On the other side of the political spectrum, the leftist Nupes coalition, led by hardliner Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won 131 seats to become the main opposition force.

Macron’s alliance Together! won 245 seats — but fell 44 seats short of a straight majority in the National Assembly, France’s most powerful house of parliament.

The outcome of the legislative election is highly unusual in France and the strong performance of both Le Pen’s National Rally and Mélenchon’s coalition — composed of his own hard-left party, France Unbowed, the Socialists, Greens and Communists — will make it harder for Macron to implement the agenda he was reelected on in May, including tax cuts and raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 65.

“Macron is a minority president now. (...) His retirement reform plan is buried,” a beaming Le Pen declared on Monday in Hénin-Beaumont, her stronghold in northern France, where she was reelected for another five-year term in the parliament.

She told reporters: “We are entering the parliament as a very strong group and as such we will claim every post that belongs to us." As the biggest single opposition party in the parliament — Mélenchon leads a coalition — she said the National Rally will seek to chair the parliament’s powerful finance committee.

The National Rally, previously known as the National Front, has been a political force in France for decades. But the two-round voting system had until now prevented it to do big scores in the parliamentary elections.

Political analyst Brice Teinturier, deputy director-general of Ipsos polling institute, said on France Inter radio that Sunday's result “means that the National Rally is ‘institutionalizing’ itself.” The strategy through which all other political forces used to join together to defeat the far-right in the decisive round doesn’t work anymore, he said.

Le Pen lost to Macron in April with 41.5% of the votes against 58.5% — her highest-ever level of support in her three attempts to become France’s leader.

Since taking over the party in 2011, Le Pen has worked to remove the stigma of racism and antisemitism attached to the National Front under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. By softening some of her views and rhetoric, she sought to make the party move from a protest movement to an opposition force perceived as being able to govern. She even changed the party's name.

Le Pen's National Rally now has a sufficient number of legislators to constitute a formal group at the National Assembly and request seats in parliamentary committees, including those focusing on defense and foreign policy.

In addition, the National Rally party now has enough seats — more than 58 — to trigger a censure motion against the government that can lead to a no-confidence vote.

The new Assembly will start working next week.

Meanwhile, France is heading toward a government reshuffle. Three ministers — out of 15 who were running — have lost the election and will need to resign under rules set by Macron.

The president could also use the reshuffle to offer some jobs in the government to new potential allies.

Macron himself hasn't commented on the election results yet.

His government will still have the ability to rule, but only by bargaining with legislators. The centrists could try to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with lawmakers from the center-left and from the conservative party — with the goal of preventing opposition lawmakers from being numerous enough to reject the proposed measures.

The government could also occasionally use a special measure provided by the French Constitution to adopt a law without a vote.

A similar situation happened in 1988 under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, who then had to seek support from the Communists or the centrists to pass laws.

Macron’s diplomatic policies aren't expected to be affected in an immediate future, including France’s strong support for Ukraine. In line with the French Constitution, Macron keeps substantial powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defense no matter what difficulties his alliance may face in parliament.

Teinturier, the political analyst, said the new composition of the National Assembly echoes “the desire of the French people to rebalance” the results of the presidential election.

“There was clearly the will to not give all the powers and a straight majority to Emmanuel Macron and to impose on him some constraints, some kind of placement under supervision,” he said.

The latest parliamentary election has once again largely been defined by voter apathy — with over half the electorate staying home.

Aurélie Cruvilier, a bank employee in the French capital said the outcome of Sunday's vote was confusing because “we vote for candidates that we don't like when we maybe should be voting for ideas or at least important issues."

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Surk wrote from Nice, France. Alexander Turnbull and Catherine Gaschka in Paris contributed to the story.

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Follow all AP stories on France’s 2022 presidential election at https://apnews.com/hub/france-election-2022

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