Chaos on French right as Macron snap poll reshapes politics

AFP , Thursday 13 Jun 2024

French right-wing parties were mired by infighting Thursday as campaigning intensified for snap elections called by President Emmanuel Macron, but his government faces a more unified challenge from the left.

(From L) French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party President and electoral list leader Jord
(From L) French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party President and electoral list leader Jordan Bardella, France s President Emmanuel Macron, and National Assembly parliamentary group President for the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party Marine Le Pen. AFP


Coming just two years after he failed to secure a majority in parliament to buttress his second presidential term, Macron's gamble on early polls risks strengthening the far-right National Rally (RN) and has sparked a meltdown among traditional conservatives.

Eric Ciotti of the mainstream right Republicans party announced a surprise alliance with the RN this week, which prompted the rest of the leadership team to vote him out Wednesday.

But on Thursday Ciotti insisted he was still party leader, dismissing the effort to oust him as "quibbles, little battles by mediocre people... who understand nothing about what's going on in the country", adding that it was legally void.

"I'm president of the party, I'm going to my office and that's it," Ciotti told reporters as he arrived at Republicans headquarters in Paris, calling his opponents' vote a "takeover" attempt and saying he had challenged its validity in court.

Viral images spread on social media the day before of Paris region president Valerie Pecresse rolling up her sleeves as she approached Republican party headquarters -- closed by Ciotti in an apparent bid to prevent the political committee meeting from going ahead.

Some on the right remain open to the RN, with Francois-Xavier Bellamy -- the party's lead candidate in Sunday's European ballot -- saying Thursday he would "of course" vote for an RN candidate over the left in a second-round run-off.

"I'll do everything to prevent France Unbowed (LFI) coming to power," Bellamy told broadcaster Europe 1, referring to the hard-left outfit that has struck an alliance deal with other left-leaning parties.


'End of the road'

The lightning election campaign, with the first round of voting on June 30, has also shattered the RN's smaller far-right rival Reconquest over whether to ally with the heavyweight formation.

Marion Marechal, who led Reconquest's European Parliament list, called for an alliance with the RN -- whose figurehead Marine Le Pen is her aunt.

"She's reached the end of the road, she's shutting herself out of this party that she's always despised," Reconquest founder Eric Zemmour said late Wednesday.

While smaller outfits fight amongst themselves, Le Pen's RN appears set to cruise to a massively increased parliamentary presence from its current 88 out of 577 seats.

The party "will come out on top of the election with the largest parliamentary group but short of an absolute majority," University College London political scientist Philippe Marliere predicted.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told broadcaster France Inter Thursday that voters stood before a "societal choice".

Besides the "extreme left" and "far right", Macron's centrist camp offered a "progressive, pro-work, democratic, republican" alternative, he said.


'Unite the country'

Attal spent much of his time attacking the left, after Socialists, Communists, Greens and hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) reestablished an alliance that broke apart over the response to Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing Gaza conflict.

"I'm thinking of all the social-democratic voters on the left who don't see themselves in this," Attal said.

Macron's camp has dubbed itself "Ensemble pour la Republique" (Together for the Republic), a senior member told AFP Thursday after a strategy meeting with Attal and chiefs of allied parties.

Their message will be "Do you want (RN president) Jordan Bardella or (LFI founder) Jean-Luc Melenchon in Matignon," the prime minister's office, a source close to Attal said.

Left-wing leaders were occupied with who might be prime minister if their alliance came out on top, with LFI's repeat presidential candidate Melenchon and senior MP Francois Ruffin throwing their hats in the ring.

Socialist Party (PS) chief Olivier Faure said that someone "who is not the most divisive but allows us to unite the country" should be PM -- potentially ruling out Melenchon, who attracts fierce loyalty from supporters as well as intense dislike across much of the political spectrum.

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