Far right out ahead with three days to France vote

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Far right out ahead with three days to France vote

France’s political future was up in the air on Thursday with the far right surging in polls but other forces fighting to the end three days before a high-stakes parliamentary vote.

Depending on the result, President Emmanuel Macron could be left in a tense “cohabitation” with a prime minister from an opposing party.

Or he could find himself with a parliament unable to produce a stable majority to govern the European Union’s second economy and its top military power.

Surveys suggest voters could hand the National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen more than 32 percent support, with a left alliance on up to 30 and Macron’s centrists in the dust at around 20 percent.

But even France’s seasoned pollsters are struggling to predict a final result. July 7’s second-round run-off ballots — many expected to be three-way fights — could see voters shift allegiances and new alliances of convenience form.

Higher-than-usual turnout could also transform the vote.

When he called the snap poll after a June 9 European Parliament election drubbing by the RN, Macron had hoped to present voters with a stark choice about whether to hand France to the far right.

But the lightning three-week campaign “wasn’t going to turn around the major trends”, Brice Teinturier, deputy director of pollster Ipsos, told Le Monde daily.

Around two thirds of eligible voters plan to cast their ballots in the legislative elections, which would be the highest level since 1997.

By Thursday, polling firm Harris Interactive Toluna was predicting the RN was in reach of an absolute majority. But others forecast it would fall short.

– EU ‘rebate’ –

Le Pen is already envisioning an absolute majority and RN head of government, telling the Telegramme daily that the president’s title as commander-in-chief of the armed forces was “honorific, because it’s the prime minister who holds the purse strings”.

Therefore, “on Ukraine, the president will not be able to send troops”, she added, undermining Macron’s warning to Moscow that France would keep all options on the table to thwart Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

Macron ally Francois Bayrou said Le Pen’s remarks were a “deep challenge to the constitution”.

Her 28-year-old candidate for prime minister, Jordan Bardella, has already vowed not to send Kyiv long-range missiles and other weapons that could strike Russian territory, in a reversal of Macron’s policy.

Bardella told the Financial Times on Thursday that although the eurosceptic RN does “not intend to go to war with Brussels”, he wants a “rebate” of two billion euros ($2.1 billion) on France’s annual contributions to the EU budget.

That is around 10 percent of the total for 2024 cited by the finance ministry.

Bardella also insisted on the RN’s pet themes of immigration and Islam.

Himself the son of Italian immigrants, he said a far-right government would end France’s centuries-old birthright citizenship law and install a “national preference”, putting foreigners at the back of the queue for welfare benefits.

He also vowed a “cultural battle” against Islam, making it easier to closes mosques and deport imams suspected of radicalisation, and banning certain veils and so-called “burkini” swimwear.

“The veil is not desirable in French society,” he added.

There are 5.4 million Muslim citizens in France’s population of 65.2 million, according to Pew Research Centre estimate.

In a nod to the election uncertainty, the RN has also said it will not agree to form a government without an absolute majority — leaving open the possibility that no political force will be able to keep a prime minister in place.

– Last gasp –

Hoping to defy the odds, current incumbent Gabriel Attal — named months ago by Macron as France’s youngest-ever PM — will take on Bardella and Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure in a TV debate on Thursday evening.

It marks one of the last opportunities to convince voters since campaigning is officially suspended on Saturday and during voting on Sunday.

Candidates had failed to land any telling blows in a previous broadcast showdown on Tuesday.

Attal on Wednesday hammered what has been his message throughout the lightning three-week campaign.

At a stop in central France, he asked voters to reject an RN that “stigmatises” parts of the population and a left alliance he accused of indulging sectarianism.

Bardella may attempt to clarify some of his plans for voters’ wallets, after struggling to explain how he would undo Macron’s unpopular increase to the pension age or shape a policy to exempt under-30s from income tax.

He was forced to say on Wednesday that “of course there would be a ceiling” on the income tax exemption, after being challenged on whether star France striker Kylian Mbappe’s multi-million salary would go untaxed.