French parliamentary election first round: Five key takeaways

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By Euronews
France's President Emmanuel Macron waves as he leaves the polling station after voting in the first round of French parliamentary election on 12 June 2022
France's President Emmanuel Macron waves as he leaves the polling station after voting in the first round of French parliamentary election on 12 June 2022   -  Copyright  Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP

French voters took to the voting polls on Sunday to elect the National Assembly MPs for a new five-year term.

The first round of the parliamentary election, held less than two months after President Emmanuel Macron won his reelection, saw more than 6,000 candidates compete for 577 seats, with each spot in the Assembly its own local race.

Candidates who did not cross the 50% threshold in the first round will now have to go into the second run-off round on Sunday, 19 June.

Here are the top five takeaways after the polls closed on Sunday:

Macron’s slight lead

The French parliamentary election's opening round saw Macron's Ensemble coalition take a slight lead, with 25.75% of the popular vote, compared with 25.66% for the NUPES leftist bloc of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, according to official results.

The closeness of the vote means that Ensemble might not keep their absolute majority in parliament, depending on how results go next Sunday.

Different polls have predicted that Ensemble could get between 255 and 310 seats, compared to NUPES' possible range of between 150 and 220 deputies.

Strong showing from the left

NUPES, an unexpected left-wing alliance consisting of Mélenchon's La France Insoumise, Socialist, Green and Communist parties came a strong second on Sunday.

Shortly after polls closed, Mélenchon claimed that the tight race signalled the defeat of Ensemble, with NUPES representatives challenging the predicted number of seats won by Macron's bloc.

However, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne fired back, saying that Ensemble is "the only political force capable of obtaining a majority”.

Low turnout

Turnout was noticeably lower than in past elections, with the majority of voters opting to stay at home. An estimated 52.49% of registered voters did not cast their ballots.

Turnout of 18.43% at noon was almost one point lower than in 2017, when it stood at 19.24%, and was down six percentage points from the April presidential election when turnout stood at 25.48%.

The left has already begun mobilising its voters who abstained in the first round, publicly asking them to go out in large numbers on 19 June.

Far-right comes in third

Far-right and nationalist Rassemblement National led by Marine Le Pen – who lost to Macron in the second round of presidential elections – came in a distant third, receiving 18.68% of the vote.

Rassemblement National currently has eight seats in the National Assembly, short of the 15 needed to form a parliamentary group. However, that could change next Sunday, with the party projected to win anywhere from 20 to 45 seats, according to some polls.

One notable loser on Sunday was far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, who attracted strong media attention in the presidential race earlier this year but has failed to turn that into electoral success. Zemmour failed to reach the second round in his bid for a seat representing Saint Tropez. 

His Reconquête or Reconquest party won just 4.24% of the vote and failed to send a single candidate to the run-offs.

Still all to play for

French voters were choosing from an eye-watering 6,293 candidates, which works out as nearly 11 candidates per constituency on average. Of these, 55.8% were men (3,514 candidates), and 44.2% women (2,779 candidates).

With the run-off vote decisive for those who did not cross the 50% threshold this Sunday, there is still a lot to play for.

Macron is hoping that he will not become the first president since 2002 to have to deal with "cohabitation" -- a situation in which the prime minister is not on the same political side and the president does not have a majority in the assembly.

Macron needs to win a majority in parliament to have the best chance of pushing through his policies, including tax reductions, increasing the retirement age and an overhaul of the welfare system.