France's President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony to review troops that will take part in the July 14th Bastille Day parade in Paris on July 2, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: More than 200 centrist and left-wing candidates pulled out of France’s legislative election runoff ahead of a Tuesday deadline, in a move President Emmanuel Macron hopes will block the far right from winning power.

France votes Sunday in the final round of snap legislative polls Macron called seeking a “clarification” in politics after his camp was trounced in European elections last month.

His gamble backfired, with the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen winning the June 30 first round. But the key suspense now is whether the RN can get enough seats to form a government.

Faced with the prospect of the far right taking power for the first time since France’s occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II, Macron’s camp and the left have urged a broad “Republican Front” to stop Le Pen’s anti-immigration and eurosceptic party.

With the clock ticking to a deadline later Tuesday to register, over 200 pro-Macron or left-wing candidates had pulled out of contests to prevent the RN winning seats.

Le Pen appeared to row back on previous comments that the RN would only form a government with an absolute majority of 289 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, saying it would still try if slightly below this figure.

Elisabeth Borne
Candidate of the right-wing Ensemble coalition and former Prime minister Elisabeth Borne (C) holds leaflets as she talks to local residents during a campaign visit at a market in Villers Bocage, north western France, on July 3, 2024, four days ahead of the second round of France's legislative elections. Image Credit: AFP

She said her party would seek to form a government and make her 28-year-old protege Jordan Bardella prime minister from a minimum of “for example, 270 deputies” and then find support from 19 more MPs.

“If we then have a majority, then yes, of course, we’ll go and do what the voters elected us to do”, she told broadcaster France Inter.

If Bardella becomes prime minister, this would create a tense period of “cohabitation” with Macron, who has vowed to serve out his term until 2027.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, 35, said late Monday it “would be catastrophic for the French” to give the far right an absolute majority.

‘You don’t have the right!’

On Tuesday Attal came under pressure from a 22-year-old voter during a campaign stop in Paris who accused the centrist camp of not doing enough to prevent the ascent of Le Pen’s party.

“You don’t have the right to leave the world to the far-right,” the man told Attal in a tense exchange, adding people of his generation “are just starting out in life.”

Just 76 lawmakers, almost all from the far right and left were elected outright in the first round of voting at the weekend.

The fate of the remaining 501 seats will be determined in the second round in run-offs between two or three remaining candidates.

Of the candidates who have decided to quit the race more than 120 are members of the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition, which came second in the first round, and more than 70 represent Macron’s camp.

An RN candidate on Tuesday also dropped out of the race over a social media post showing her in a cap from the Luftwaffe air force of Nazi Germany, a party official said.

But there has been discord within the presidential camp over backing those NFP candidates who hark from the France Unbowed (LFI) hard-left party.

Several heavyweights in the Macron camp, including Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and former prime minister Edouard Philippe, have argued they should not help candidates from the LFI which is accused by its critics of extremism and failing to back Israel after the October 7 attack by Hamas.

‘Administrative coup’

As tensions rose five days ahead of the ballot, Le Pen accused Macron of rushing to appoint officials to key jobs in the police and other institutions before any cohabitation in what she described as “a form of administrative coup d’etat”

Most projections in the immediate aftermath of the first round showed the RN falling short of an absolute majority.

Analysts say the most likely outcome is a hung parliament that could lead to months of political paralysis, at a time when France is hosting the Olympics.

The chaos also risks damaging the international credibility of Macron, a champion of Ukraine’s fight against the Russian attack who is set to attend a NATO summit in Washington immediately after the vote.