Paris: French opposition forces and allies of centrist President Emmanuel Macron were Friday to make a final push for votes ahead of the last round of tense parliamentary elections, where the French leader risks losing his overall majority in the face of a challenge from a resurgent left.
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.
Friday is the last day of legal campaigning, with all political activity banned from midnight and Saturday a day of calm before voting gets underway on Sunday.
Macron has endured a tricky start to his second term - against a background of rising prices and Russia’s attack of Ukraine - while the French left has finally united its disparate forces into a coalition spanning Greens, Communists, hard-left and Socialists.
He returns to the domestic political fray on Friday after three days out of France for a trip that concluded with a visit to Ukraine and also included stops in Romania and Moldova.
“We must be strong, for ourselves and to spread our values to be credible abroad and take exceptional decisions in these exceptional times that we are experiencing,” Macron, who has urged France to give him a clear majority, told TF1 TV in an interview late Thursday in Kyiv.
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 Together - 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 Together 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”.
Martin Quencez, research fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said it would be crucial for Macron to mobilise right-wing voters.
“If you compare the first round of presidential elections to the first round of the parliamentary elections, you find that Macron has lost about four million voters,” he said.
“He needs to mobilise these people who can support his programme and what his party represents.”
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.
Both sides have exchanged bitter barbs in the final days of campaigning, in a sign of what is at stake.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, speaking to French television, on Wednesday 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”.
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”.
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.
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.