France votes in election that could hand power to far right


French voters began voting on Sunday in the first round of a snap parliamentary election that could usher in the country's first far-right government since World War Two, a potential sea change at the heart of the European Union.

President Emmanuel Macron stunned the country when he called the vote after his centrist alliance was crushed in European elections this month by Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN). Her eurosceptic, anti-immigrant party was a long-time pariah but is now closer to power than it has ever been.

Polls opened at 0600 GMT and will close at 1600 GMT in small towns and cities, with an 1800 GMT finish in the bigger cities, when the first exit polls for the night and seat projections for the decisive second round a week later are expected.

However the electoral system can make it hard to estimate the precise distribution of seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, and the final outcome will not be known until the end of voting on July 7.

"We are going to win an absolute majority," said Le Pen in a newspaper interview on Wednesday, predicting that her protégé, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella would be prime minister. Her party has a high-spending economic programme and seeks to reduce immigration.

If the RN does win an absolute majority, French diplomacy could be headed for an unprecedented period of turbulence: with Macron - who has said he will continue his presidency until the end of his term in 2027 - and Bardella jostling for the right to speak for France.

Bardella has already indicated he would challenge Macron on global issues. France could lurch from being a pillar of the EU to a thorn in its side, demanding a rebate of the French contribution to the EU budget, clashing with Brussels over European Commission jobs and reversing Macron's calls for greater EU unity and assertiveness on defence.

A clear RN victory would also bring uncertainty as to where France stands on the Russia-Ukraine war. Le Pen has a history of pro-Russian sentiment and while the party now says it would help Ukraine defend itself against Russian invaders, it has also set out red lines, such as refusing to provide long-range missiles.

More from International