Results of French first-round vote may be the tremor before the earthquake

Much will depend on how well centre and left groups can avoid splitting the vote in decisive second round

Marine Le Pen, leader of National Rally (RN), arriving to vote at a polling station during the first round of elections in Henin-Beaumont, France, on Sunday, June 30th, 2024. Photograph: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg

The victory of the far right in the first round of voting in French parliamentary elections will feel only like an early tremor if Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) manages to win an outright majority in the run-off vote on Sunday.

That political earthquake, which would be on par with the world waking up to the news Britain had voted to leave the EU or Donald Trump had been elected US president, remains a possibility. However, the more likely outcome is a hung parliament where the Eurosceptic, anti-immigration RN wins the most seats but falls short of a majority.

Under France’s complicated electoral rules in most of the 577 single-seat constituencies the two or three candidates who got the most votes in the first round of voting advance to a decisive second vote on Sunday.

While RN won 33 per cent of the vote at the weekend, how this level of support translates into parliament seats after the run-off depends on a number of factors. The biggest one will be how well the left wing New Popular Front and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist camp can co-operate to keep the far right out of power.


The Popular Front, a coalition of the parties from the centre left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s more radical France Unbowed, won 28 per cent of the first round vote. Macron’s coalition staggered in behind the left in third place on 22 per cent, a clear defeat that will see it go from the biggest group in parliament to a much diminished force.

In more than 230 constituencies the results would mean a three-horse race in the second vote between the National Rally, the Popular Front and Macron’s coalition, according to an analysis by Ipsos polling company. However, the left have said where their candidates came third they will pull out of the second round to give the remaining centrist a better chance of beating the far right.

The message from Macron’s camp is a little less clear. His allies have indicated where they came third and the National Rally is on course to take the seat they would withdraw to help the left win, but perhaps not in cases where the candidates come from the France Unbowed party. Mélenchon, a left wing firebrand who previously ran for president, is mentioned in the same breath as Le Pen by some French voters, who view both as an unpalatable extreme choice.

Parties and candidates have until Tuesday evening to decide if they want to pull their name from the ballot in the run-off. How real is the prospect of the far right being able to carve a path to take over the French government may be a little clearer afterwards.