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Can France’s New Popular Front overcome electoral threat from far right? | France

Can France’s New Popular Front overcome electoral threat from far right? | France
Can France’s New Popular Front overcome electoral threat from far right? | France

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France’s four main left-leaning and green parties, aiming to block the advance of the far right, have formed an alliance to run a single list of candidates in snap elections called by President Emmanuel Macron for later this month.

Who is in the New Popular Front (NFP), what is its platform, how well is it likely to perform – and, given the major policy disagreements between its members and the personal animosity among its leaders, will it survive?


Why has the left united?

Voting in French presidential and parliamentary elections takes place over two rounds. A candidate can win in the first round if they garner more than 50% of the total ballots cast, representing at least 25% of registered voters, but this is rare.

In the majority of France’s 577 constituencies, the two leading candidates from the first round, plus any others who collected at least 12.5% of registered voters, go through to the second. Joining forces hugely increases the chances of leftist candidates advancing.

The name of the alliance is a nod to the Popular Front, a short-lived political alliance between the Socilaists and Communists in France in 1936 to combat fascism that led to the socialist politician Léon Blum becoming prime minister.


Which parties are involved and how many candidates will each field?

The largest party in the NFP is Unbowed France (LFI), led by the radical left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Founded in 2016, it is far-left and populist, believing traditional parties and political organisations no longer serve democracy. It had 75 MPs in the outgoing parliament.

LFI wants constitutional reform, 100% renewable energy by 2050, withdrawal from free trade agreements, a “democratic refounding” of the EU, the separation of retail and investment banking, price caps on basic foods and energy and a higher minimum wage.

The Socialist party (PS) is the mainstream centre-left party of François Mitterrand and François Hollande. Social democratic and pro-European, it was for decades the largest party of the French left, but scored less than 2% in the 2022 presidential election and had 31 MPs.

The French Communist party (PCF), one of Europe’s oldest, was long the main force on the postwar French left and served in a coalition government with the PS from 1997-2002. It still aims to “overcome” capitalism, but is pragmatic about doing it. It had 22 deputies in the previous parliament.

The French Green party (LE-EELV) wants a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions, a nuclear phase-out, and greener jobs, housing, public transport, and agriculture. Pro-EU, it has a markedly leftwing economic agenda, including tax increases for higher earners. It had 21 MPs.

Under the agreement, of the 546 candidates being fielded by the new alliance in the first round of the elections on 30 June, 229 will be backed by LFI, compared with 175 for the PS, 92 for the Greens and 50 for the communist PCF.


What is the NFP’s programme?

While all four parties said they had made concessions, the NFP’s programme is clearly influenced by that of the hard-left LFI, including pledges that would hugely increase public spending. At 110%, France’s debt ratio is the third-highest in the eurozone.

It promises to reverse Macron’s controversial pension reforms and return the retirement age to 60; to raise public sector wages; to link salaries to inflation; to boost housing and youth benefits; to cut income tax and social security for lower earners; and to introduce a wealth tax for the rich.

It also aims to raise the minimum wage, fund 500,000 childcare places, cap the prices of essential foods, electricity, gas and petrol, boost green measures – including legislating for carbon neutrality by 2050 – and reform the EU’s common agriculture policy.

On foreign affairs, the alliance has said it would demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, recognise the state of Palestine, “halt Moscow’s war of aggression” in Ukraine, keep supplying arms to Kyiv and “unfailingly defend the sovereignty and freedom of the Ukrainian people”.

Mélenchon himself has been known to make many Moscow-friendly statements, but has moderated his stance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


How solid is the alliance?

The same four parties formed a comparable pact, known as the Nupes, in the aftermath of the 2022 presidential elections and before the subsequent parliamentary ballot. The alliance gained just over 150 deputies in the national assembly as a result.

While it was never formally dissolved, that alliance effectively collapsed last year due in part to Mélenchon’s domineering and abrasive character and increasingly radical stances, but also because of deep policy differences over support for Ukraine, the war in Gaza, and the EU.

LFI has refused to refer to Hamas as a terrorist group, and the party – and in particular Mélenchon, some of whose remarks have provoked outrage from rival politicians and in the Jewish community – has been accused of courting Muslim voters by peddling antisemitic tropes. They deny this.

The parties seem determined to make this one work, winning the backing of the fierce Mélenchon critic Raphaël Glucksmann, who led a moderate socialist list to third place in the European parliamentary elections, and of the former PS president François Hollande.

But it is unclear who will lead the NFP or be its candidate for prime minister. Glucksmann and others have ruled out Mélenchon, saying the NFP needs a consensus-builder, and others on the left have referred to described the alliance as “just the opening of discussions”.

Mélenchon has promised to step aside, but for now his iron grip on LFI remains; the party refused to renominate five outgoing MPs who dared criticise its fiery leader, a decision the three-time presidential candidate’s foes described as a “purge” and “typically autocratic”.


How well will the NFP do?

Polls put the NPF at about 28%-30% of the national vote, against an estimated 33% for the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and barely 19% for Macron’s centrist coalition. Most experts say they do not expect the leftist alliance to win.

However, the final outcome in terms of actual seat numbers in the national assembly is hard to judge. On current polling, the president’s candidates could be squeezed out of the second round of voting altogether in hundreds of constituencies.

If that happens, moderate leftwing voters – of the kind who backed Glucksmann – are likely to find themselves the deciding factor. Faced with a choice between the NFP and RN, it is unclear how many will back an alliance that includes LFI, or prefer to abstain.

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