French parties hold key debate as Macron warns of 'civil war'

AFP , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

France's three main political camps were set to go head-to-head Tuesday in a key TV debate as voters prepared for the most polarising election in decades and President Emmanuel Macron warned of "civil war".

Eric Ciotti, left, President of the conservative party Les Republicains, listens to far-right Nation
Eric Ciotti, left, President of the conservative party Les Republicains, listens to far-right National Rally party leader Jordan Bardella answering economics questions of the French business organization (MEDEF), Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Paris. AP

 

The rhetoric has reached fever pitch ahead of Sunday's first round of voting in the parliamentary elections, with the far-right National Rally (RN) polling in first place.

Tuesday night's debate will pit Prime Minister Gabriel Attal of Macron's centrist Renaissance party against RN president Jordan Bardella and Manuel Bompard of France Unbowed, representing a left-wing alliance that is also besting Macron's side in the polls.

At just 28, Bardella could become the first far-right prime minister in France's modern history, though he has said he will only take the job if the RN wins an absolute majority in parliament.

Regardless of the result, Macron has vowed to stay on as president until the end of his second term in 2027.

He has been criticised from all sides for his decision to call the snap election after his party received a drubbing in a European vote earlier this month.

An Ifop poll has the RN with 36 per cent support, the left-wing New Popular Front with 29.5 per cent and Macron's camp with 20.5 per cent, leading the unpopular president's allies to beg him to step back from the campaign.

But Macron weighed in on Monday evening to warn that the programmes of the two "extremes" could spark a "civil war", accusing both the RN and France Unbowed of sowing tensions and division.

Leaders of both left and right condemned his remarks.

RN leader Marine Le Pen said Macron's argument was "weak" and showed "he thinks he's lost this election".

Patrick Kanner, head of the centre-left Socialists in the Senate, said his remarks showed France is "faced with someone who no longer controls anything."

'What debate?'
 

Some suggested that Tuesday's TV debate was unlikely to change the balance between the three blocs.

"What debate? People have already chosen, it's already crystallised," a top member of Macron's team, who asked not to be named, told AFP. "Maybe it can help us with the abstainers."

Some 200 socialist, environmentalist and centrist figures signed an open letter against the far-right in Le Monde newspaper, calling on all parties to unite against the RN in the second-round run-off on July 7.

Meanwhile, Bardella and Attal both requested that the left-wing slot in Tuesday's debate be taken by France Unbowed founder Jean-Luc Melenchon rather than Bompard.

A former presidential candidate, Melenchon is the most recognisable but also the most divisive figure on the left due to his radical positions.

Many on the left hope a more "consensus" candidate will take the post of prime minister if they win.

Melenchon "is not the leader of the New Popular Front and he will not be prime minister," Ecologist Party leader Marine Tondelier told AFP on Monday.

Melenchon himself has refused to rule himself out of the running, saying his name "opens doors in working-class neighbourhoods."

In a sign of how traditional parties have collapsed, the right-wing Republicans are not represented in Tuesday's TV debate at all.

They brought a case before the Council of State, France's highest administrative court, insisting they be included.

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