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French Election Results: Nobody Saw It Coming, But It's Not Over Yet

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen talks to journalists on July 7.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen talks to journalists on July 7.

It’s fair to say no one saw this one coming.

While Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) wasn't expected to secure a majority in the 577-seat-parliament, it was projected to finish first with 200-plus seats. If the early but often reliable French exit polls are to be believed, they will finish third with a maximum of 150 deputies.

Instead, the big winner is the recently created left-wing alliance New Popular Front (NFP) -- an unwieldy coalition of Greens, Social Democrats, communists, and the leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon's Unsubmissive France (LFI), which is projected to get close to 200 elected representatives.

Even Macron's centrist Ensemble (Together) appears set to finish ahead of Le Pen.

What caused this surprise?

Firstly, the participation rate, at 67 percent, is the highest in French parliamentary elections this century. It seems clear that talk of the most consequential vote in the country's history has energized the anti-RN electorate.

And then there is the so-called "Republic Front," the unofficial but successful anti-RN cooperation in over 200 constituencies to support the prospective member of parliament with the biggest chance of beating Le Pen's candidate.

RN often thrives when several parties from center-right to the left compete with each other. Now, it was often denied this fractured landscape.

But while the exit polls left many in Europe breathing a sigh of relief, this is far from over.

Macron's wings, at least domestically, are clipped.

There will be a struggle to form a functional government in such a split parliament, as the left alliance and Macron's centrists don't really see eye-to-eye, not to speak about some parties inside the alliance itself.

If a coalition is formed, it will be weak and likely chaotic. Don't rule out new elections when it's legally possible in a year's time.

And don't rule out that Le Pen is waiting on the sidelines for a more opportune moment, both in case of new parliamentary elections and the big prize to come: the vote for a new president in 2027.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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