National Secretary for The Ecologists formerly known as Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) Marine Tondelier casts her vote at a polling station in the first round of parliamentary elections in Henin-Beaumont, North of France on June 30, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Polls opened in France on Sunday for the first round of snap parliamentary elections which could see the far-right party of Marine Le Pen take power in a historic first.

Polling stations opened across mainland France at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and will close 12 hours later, immediately followed by projections that usually predict the result with a degree of accuracy.

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Voters in France's overseas territories that span the globe cast ballots earlier in the weekend. Some 49 million people are eligible to vote.

Cassandre Cazaux, a nurse who voted in France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, where tensions remain high following last month's deadly riots, said the elections were "decisive".

"It should be well attended, but I don't know if everyone will play along and come out to vote," she said.

Elections for the 577 seats in the National Assembly are a two-round process. The shape of the new parliament will become clear after the second round on July 7.

Most polls show the RN on course to win the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, parliament's lower house, although it remains unclear if the party will secure an outright majority.

A high turnout is predicted and final opinion polls have given the RN between 35 per cent and 37 per cent of the vote, against 27.5-29 per cent for the left-wing New Popular Front alliance and 20-21 per cent for Macron's centrist camp.

If the RN obtains an absolute majority, party chief Jordan Bardella, Le Pen's 28-year-old protege with no governing experience, could become prime minister in a tense "cohabitation" with Macron.

On Monday, Macron plans to convene a government meeting to decide the further course of action, government sources told AFP.

France is heading for a year of political chaos and confusion with a hung Assembly, said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe head at Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy.

"There is no precedent in recent French politics for such an impasse," Rahman said.

Calls to mobilise

Macron's decision to call the snap vote after the RN's strong showing in European Parliament elections this month stunned friends and foes and sparked uncertainty in Europe's second-biggest economy.

The Paris stock exchange suffered its biggest monthly decline in two years in June, dropping by 6.4 per cent, according to figures released on Friday.

In an editorial, French daily Le Monde said it was time to mobilise against the far right. "Yielding any power to it means nothing less than taking the risk of seeing everything that has been built and conquered over more than two and a half centuries gradually being undone," it said.

Support for Macron's centrist camp has collapsed, while left-wing parties put their bickering aside to form the New Popular Front, in a nod to an alliance founded in 1936 to combat fascism.

Analysts say Le Pen's years-long efforts to clean up the image of a party co-founded by a former Waffen SS member have been paying off.

The party has promised to bolster purchasing power, curb immigration and boost law and order.

A defiant Macron has stood by his decision to call the elections, while warning voters that a win by the far right or hard left could spark a "civil war".

He has insisted he will serve out the remainder of his second term until 2027, no matter which party wins.