Voting has begun in France for the high-stakes, second-round parliamentary election, with a surge in support for the left-wing alliance threatening recently re-elected President Emmanuel Macron’s hopes for an outright majority.
Voting started at 8am (06:00 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 8pm.
Macron is facing a challenge from NUPES, a new left-wing alliance led by former Socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon. The rejuvenated left is putting up a fight as rampant inflation drives up the cost of living and sends shockwaves through the French political landscape.
In the first round of voting last Sunday, the two sides were neck-and-neck with about 26 percent. In the second round, the initial field of candidates in nearly all 577 constituencies has been whittled down to two contestants who go head-to-head.
Macron’s coalition hopes to win an outright majority of 289 seats to carry out tough reforms.
Opinion polls predict Macron’s “Ensemble” (Together) coalition of centrist and centre-right parties will end up with the biggest number of seats, but say it is in no way guaranteed to reach the threshold for an absolute majority.
The far right is also likely to score its biggest parliamentary success in decades.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Paris, said the centre-right and the left-wing coalitions have “radically different ideas about what to do in the face of France’s problems.”
The centrists aim to lower taxes, reform the welfare system benefits and raise the retirement age, while the left plans to tax the rich, raise the minimum wage and lower the retirement age
Failing to reach an outright majority would require a degree of power-sharing among parties – unheard of in France for decades – or result in protracted paralysis and repeat parliamentary elections.
If Macron and his allies miss an absolute majority by just a few seats, they could poach MPs from the centre-right or conservatives. If they miss it by a wider margin, they could either seek an alliance with the conservatives or run a minority government that will have to negotiate laws on a case-by-case basis with other parties.
Hull said fewer than half of France’s electorate went to the polls in the first round, raising concerns over voter turnout. “Low turnout will tend not to favour the incumbents,” he added.
Macron won a second term in April, defeating his far-right rival Marine Le Pen by a comfortable margin. After electing a president, French voters have traditionally used legislative polls that follow a few weeks later to hand their newly elected leader a comfortable parliamentary majority.