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Editorial: Defeating Le Pen in round two is not impossible – but Macron is already making it harder

VICTORY for the far right in France’s parliamentary election is not inevitable, despite the impression given in most media.

The various seat projections for round two suggest all that is in doubt is whether Marine Le Pen’s National Rally will win an overall majority. Yet Le Pen herself admits that “nothing is won yet.” 

The threat can certainly not be underestimated: the National Rally has topped the polls for the first time in a legislative election. 

Many express shock, though this has been a predictable, and widely predicted, development for years, it entering the run-off round in three of the last five presidential elections, including both the last two. Morning Star contributor Kevin Ovenden observed years ago that Emmanuel Macron’s government looked like “the preparatory regime to Le Pen’s,” adopting extremely authoritarian and often racist policies that emboldened the far right while simultaneously pursuing a neoliberal privatisation and deregulation agenda that widened inequalities.

So far, the rhetorical response to the far-right’s first place has been familiar: calls for a “republican front” to defeat National Rally in a week’s time. This is entirely possible: Le Pen’s party won 29.24 per cent in the first round, just 1.25 per cent ahead of the left-wing Popular Front on 27.99 per cent, and significantly behind the latter combined with Macron’s alliance on 20 per cent.

But it will be difficult. For one thing, the high turnout has produced an unprecedented number of three-way run-offs. Any candidate with over 12.5 per cent of the entire registered vote (rather than of voters) enters the second round alongside the two frontrunners. It has been unusual for third parties to reach this threshold but this time about half the seats in the Assembly have produced these “triangular” contests.

Candidates can withdraw in favour of the one best placed to defeat the National Rally. The Popular Front’s leaders have indicated that where their candidates have come third, they will do this. 

Yet the noises from the Establishment camp are more ambiguous. Macron wants a “a broad, clearly democratic and republican alliance for the second round,” but a statement from his party says candidates would withdraw only for alternatives who defend the “values of the Republic,” which officials hint is designed to exclude the largest single component of the Popular Front — Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Unbowed. One of the president’s former prime ministers, Edouard Philippe, is more explicit and says no votes should go to either National Rally or France Unbowed in the second round.

Establishment efforts to divide the Popular Front began even before the alliance was announced, and candidates of its most system-friendly wing, the Socialist Party, have been carping at France Unbowed and the unsuitability of Melenchon for high office through the campaign.

It is a variant of the old tactic of forcing the left behind the centre to defeat the right, seeking in the process to de-radicalise and tame an insurgent left movement, and the deliberately divisive attacks on Melenchon echo those People’s Vote campaigners who, in the name of saving Britain from Brexit, advocated Labour join a national government that would exclude its then leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

These games make defeating Le Pen much more complicated. Not only do they provide a get-out clause for Macron’s third-placed flunkies to enter three-way contests that will benefit the current frontrunner, National Rally, but even if the Popular Front reluctantly gives up some second-places in a spirit of compromise it presents the voters with options next weekend that look more like the status quo they have just overwhelmingly rejected: again, benefiting National Rally.

Never trust the ruling class. The next week will see a huge mobilisation of French voters to defeat the far right, which may or may not succeed. If it does, it will be no thanks to Macron or the political elite.

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