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French voters lament ‘unthinkable’ rise of far right in crucial election run-off

Voters in France are going to the polls in one of the most significant elections in decades, with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party poised to become the most powerful force in French politics for the first time.

Emmanuel Macron is almost certain to face a withering and perhaps fatal blow to his authority after calling a snap election for the 577-seat National Assembly, France’s lower and more prominent house of parliament, less than a month ago.

Booths opened for the decisive second round of voting in mainland France on Sunday, with most set to close at 6pm, or at 8pm in larger cities.

Pollsters are due to publish reliable seat projections based on preliminary results soon after, while official results will arrive throughout the night.

The first round of voting was dominated by the nationalist, anti-immigrant RN, which with the support of its allies won 33 per cent of the vote.

It was followed by the New Popular Front (NFP), an alliance of centre-left and left-wing parties that gained nearly 28 per cent of the vote, while Mr Macron’s party and its allies came in third with just 21 per cent.

France's President Emmanuel Macron (C), flanked by his wife Brigitte Macron, casts his ballot to vote in the second round of France's legislative election at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France on July 7, 2024. France votes in legislative elections on July 7, 2024 that will be decisive in determining its political future and could see the far right become the largest party in parliament for the first time. (Photo by MOHAMMED BADRA / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MOHAMMED BADRA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France (Photo: Mohammed Badra/AFP)

Some 76 of the seats were won outright, around half by the National Rally, but the remaining 501 have entered Sunday’s second round run-offs.

On the streets of Belleville, a traditionally working class district in eastern Paris, the tone was a mixture of dismay and defiance against the far right.

“It’s unthinkable to think so many people have voted for the RN,” said Dominique Genet, 70. “To vote for RN is to be fascist. I hope France wakes up from this.”

Louise, 39, who wished to withhold her surname, could not vote on Sunday because the NFP already won her constituency in the first round. She feared the impact the far right could have across Europe on issues such as Russia’s invasions of Ukraine.

“We have to make a democratic movement, and to block the far right,” she said.

Fabio Godefrey, 25, was still unsure of who he would vote for. “I’m very against the RN,” he said. “But it’s nonsense what Macron has done.”

The results are likely to be affected by tactical withdrawals of candidates by the left and Mr Macron’s centrist coalition, to block the far right and avoid splitting the vote – in a French political tradition known as the “Republican Front”.

More than 300 constituencies were three-way races until over 200 candidates dropped out this week.

Several French pollsters in recent days have projected the far-right to win between 175 and 240 seats, which would be short of an absolute majority but could possibly leave the door open to deals being done for it to take control of government.

“The risk is an absolute majority for the far right,” the Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, told France 2 in his final interview before the election on Friday. “I think it would be catastrophic for our country. I say that from the bottom of my heart.”

The NFP is expected to win between 145 and 175 seats, which is likely to make it the second largest force in the French assembly. Mr Macron’s coalition is forecast to lose half its MPs, with polls suggesting it will receive between 118 and 148 seats.

Turnout could be key. Some 32.9 million people cast their ballot last Sunday, the highest number for nearly 30 years, and 9.6 million more than at the first round of voting in the 2022 parliamentary elections.

By midday on Sunday, the national turnout was 26.63 per cent, which is higher than the first round’s rate of 25.9 per cent at the same time, and a record since 1981.

In overseas French regions where voting took place on Saturday, the NFP swept to victory in Guyana, Martinique and Guadeloupe, as expected, with voting in New Caledonia, Réunion and Mayotte taking place on Sunday.

About 30,000 police in France, including 5,000 in Paris, have been deployed this weekend in an effort to prevent any “disorder” by “the far left or the far right”, outgoing interior minister, Gérald Darmanin said.

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