Craig Young explains how France’s centrist and left voters strategically avoided a far-right government.

At the same time as the United Kingdom held its general election, French President Emmanuel Macron called a snap election in France – which almost went badly wrong for him.

A French President is elected once every seven years, and may or may not belong to the same political party as the largest one in the French National Assembly, its parliament. Until last week, Macron’s centre-right liberal Ensemble was the largest party in the National Assembly. Unlike New Zealand, France’s electoral system is first past the post and also unlike NZ, it’s based on a first-round indicative vote and a binding second round.


What happened in the first round this year horrified metropolitan liberal France, given that the far-right National Rally (formerly the French National Front) looked as if it might become the majority party in the National Assembly. Founded in 1972, the National Rally (NR) is anti-immigration, opposed to French NATO membership and contains Holocaust denialist elements. Its candidates espouse anti-Muslim sectarianism and anti-Arab/African racism. In the eighties, it also campaigned for the restoration of capital punishment. At the same time, it steadily won more ground in municipal and European Union elections.

In response to the alarming growth of National Front/National Rally votes, France’s left, centre-left and centre-right opponents resorted to the ‘republican front’ tactic, which meant that the voters for the largest anti-NR voting blocs were the beneficiary of widespread, disciplined tactical voting, enabling the centre-left or centre-right to claim a legislative majority to keep out NR candidates.

In 2011, current NR leader Marine Le Pen won control over the party and tried to “soften” its image, but continued to oppose inclusive adoption reform, IVF and surrogacy access for lesbians and men and the prohibition of anti-LGBTQI+ conversion therapy. It endorses banning puberty blockers and hormone treatment for trans minors and adolescents, however, NR also claims to have lesbian and gay candidates and party members.

In 2016, convicted far-right Trump advisor Steve Bannon gave a pep talk to National Front members and said they should acknowledge their racism and xenophobia. However, Le Pen’s leadership resulted in some surprises, such as support for the decriminalisation of sex work, but remained adamantly anti-Muslim, wanting to ban the Muslim hijab headscarf and halal meat certification. Le Pen also wanted a referendum on capital punishment.

The National Rally has been dogged by scandals aplenty, such as Russian bank loans to the party coffers and links to the banned violent anti-immigrant group “Generation Identity.”

At last week’s ballot box, the ‘Republican front strategy’ paid dividends again. The New Popular Front left bloc received the most second-round votes, Macron’s Ensemble came second and the National Rally was consigned to third place.

The outcome means one of two things. Either there will be a hung parliament, given that no overall bloc has a majority, or the New Popular Front and Ensemble will have to swallow their misgivings about one another, acknowledge that there needs to be a coalition of antifascist unity to keep the National Rally out of office and accept that there will need to be compromises.