French left, Macron allies trade barbs ahead of tight polls

AFP , Thursday 16 Jun 2022

France's left-wing forces and allies of centrist President Emmanuel Macron exchanged bitter accusations Thursday ahead of the final round of tightly contested parliamentary elections, where the French leader risks losing his overall majority.

Leader of left-wing coalition Jean-Luc Melenchon
French leftist La France Insoumise (LFI) party leader, Member of Parliament and leader of left-wing coalition Nupes (Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale - New Ecologic and Social People s Union) Jean-Luc Melenchon (C) speaks during a press conference in Paris on June 15, 2022, ahead of the second round of France s parliamentary elections. AFP

 

Losing a majority in the 577-seat National Assembly lower house in Sunday's vote could be a heavy blow to Macron's reform agenda, just two months after he prevailed against far-right leader Marine Le Pen in presidential elections.

Macron has endured a tricky start to his second term -- against a background of rising prices and Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- while the French left has finally united its disparate forces into a coalition.

The final campaigning is taking place with Macron out of the country as he visited Ukraine at the end of a three-day trip that also included stops in Romania and Moldova.

The first round of the parliamentary vote on June 12 painted an inconclusive picture, with Macron's centrist Ensemble (Together) coalition and the left-wing Nupes alliance led by hard-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon neck-and-neck on around 26 percent of the popular vote each.

Just five MPs -- four from Nupes and one from Ensemble -- were elected outright in the first round, leaving all to play for in Sunday's run-off voting.

Polls project a range of either a slim majority for Ensemble or falling short by several dozen seats of the 289 MPs needed for an overall majority.

The nightmare outcome for Macron -- seen as unlikely but not totally excluded -- would be a majority for Nupes that would see Melenchon become prime minister in an uncomfortable "cohabitation".

'French Trumpism'

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told French television Wednesday that the "seriousness" of the international situation meant it was vital to hold a "strong majority in the National Assembly to continue to hold our place in Europe and in the world".

She slammed Nupes as "the alliance of circumstance" hiding Melenchon's "extreme vision" that is "dangerous for our economy".

But Manon Aubry, a European deputy for Melenchon's party, accused Borne of "coming up with one lie after another".

"She spent more than half of the interview talking about Nupes, which shows they are scared. The reality is that it's them who bring chaos," she told Franceinfo radio.

France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune, a close ally of Macron, accused Melenchon of "French Trumpism", after the former US president, and coming up with "fake news" especially on taxes.

Melenchon for his part accused Macron of acting like Trump in an unscheduled election speech at a Paris airport before leaving for Romania on Tuesday, where he urged voters to give him a "solid majority", warning against adding "French disorder to global disorder".

Le Monde daily Thursday complained that the campaign since the first round had descended into "caricature".

"Rather than discussing the serious issues of the moment, the majority seeks to present the left as a threat to the republic while the Nupes candidates claim to reveal the 'hidden agenda' of the president," it said.

Careers on line

Key members of the younger generation of French politics -- Budget Minister Gabriel Attal, 33, Le Pen's de facto number two Jordan Bardella, 26, and Melenchon ally Clementine Autain, 49 -- will meanwhile take part in a televised debate at 1900 GMT.

According to the latest poll by Ifop-Fiducial for LCI and Sud Radio, Ensemble is projected to get 265-300 seats against 180-210 for the left, meaning the overall majority is far from assured.

With most cabinet ministers standing for election and Macron insisting that those who lose should step down, election night promises to be a nervous time for some big names.

Beaune, the face of France's Europe policy, is facing a tough challenge from the left in his Paris constituency, while Environment Minister Amelie de Montchalin is in even more danger in the fight for her seat in the Essonne region south of Paris.

Turnout was just 47.5 percent in the first round and the chances of the left coalition may depend on how much they can bring out disenchanted young and working-class voters.

Meanwhile, despite placing far less emphasis on these elections than the presidential polls, Le Pen is projected by most polls to exceed the minimum of 15 MPs needed to form an official faction in parliament, the first time her far-right party will have managed such a breakthrough since 1986.

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