France’s Snap Election Enters Its Final Hours

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Voters in France are casting ballots on Sunday in the final round of snap legislative elections. The results could force President Emmanuel Macron to govern alongside far-right opponents or usher in chronic political instability weeks before the Paris Summer Olympics.

Mr. Macron called the elections for the 577-seat National Assembly, France’s lower and more prominent house of Parliament, last month in a risky gamble that appeared to have largely backfired after the first round of voting last week.

Most polls close at 6 p.m. local time on Sunday, or as late as 8 p.m. in larger cities. Nationwide seat projections by polling institutes, based on preliminary results, are expected just after 8 p.m. Official results will come in throughout the night.

Here is what to watch for.

That will be the key question.

The first round of voting was dominated by the nationalist, anti-immigration National Rally party. An alliance of left-wing parties called the New Popular Front came in a strong second, while Mr. Macron’s party and its allies came in third.

Seventy-six seats were won outright — roughly half by the National Rally. But the rest went to runoffs.

Over 300 districts were three-way races until over 200 candidates from left-wing parties and Mr. Macron’s centrist coalition pulled out to avoid splitting the vote and try to prevent the far right from winning.

That will make it harder, though not impossible, for the National Rally and its allies to reach an absolute majority.

Most French pollsters expect the party and its allies to win 175 to 240 seats — short of an absolute majority of 289 seats. But if the National Rally and its allies secure an absolute majority, they will almost certainly be able to form a government — and Mr. Macron, who says he will remain in office, will have to work with them.

A contentious outcome with Mr. Macron as president and the National Rally leader, Jordan Bardella, as prime minister is possible, under what France calls a cohabitation.

France’s prime minister and cabinet are accountable to the lower house, and they determine the country’s policies. But they are appointed by the president, who has extensive executive powers and is directly elected by the public.

Usually, the president and prime minister are politically aligned. (Every five years, France holds presidential and legislative elections within weeks of each other, making it likely that voters will support the same party twice.) But when the presidency and the National Assembly are at odds, the president has little choice but to appoint a prime minister from an opposing party — or someone lawmakers won’t topple with a no-confidence vote.

Cohabitation has happened before, between mainstream left-wing and conservative leaders, from 1986 to 1988, 1993 to 1995, and 1997 to 2002. But a cohabitation between Mr. Macron, a pro-European centrist, and Mr. Bardella, a Euroskeptic nationalist, would be unprecedented.

Polls suggest that a likely scenario is a lower house roughly divided into three blocs with conflicting agendas and, in some cases, deep animosity toward one another — the National Rally, the New Popular Front, and a reduced centrist alliance including Mr. Macron’s Renaissance party.

As it stands, no bloc appears able to find enough partners to form a majority, leaving Mr. Macron with limited options.

“French political culture is not conducive to compromise,” said Samy Benzina, a public law professor at the University of Poitiers, noting that France’s institutions are designed to produce “clear majorities that can govern on their own.”

“It would be the first time in the Fifth Republic that a government could not be assembled for lack of a solid majority,” he said.

Some analysts and politicians have suggested that a broad cross-party coalition could stretch from the Greens to more moderate conservatives. But France is not accustomed to building coalitions, and several political leaders have ruled it out.

Another possibility is a caretaker government that handles day-to-day business until there is a political breakthrough. But this, too, would be a departure from French tradition.

If none of those solutions work, the country could be headed for months of political deadlock.

The campaign, one of the shortest in France’s modern history, was clouded by a tense atmosphere, racist incidents and acts of violence.

One television news program filmed a couple who support the National Rally hurling invectives at a Black neighbor, telling her to “go to the doghouse.” A television host of North African descent revealed a racist letter he had received at his home. A bakery in Avignon was burned and covered in homophobic and racist tags.

Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said on Friday that over 50 people — candidates, their substitutes, or supporters — had been “physically assaulted” during the campaign.

There are fears that postelection protests will turn violent. The authorities have deployed about 30,000 security forces around the country, including about 5,000 in the Paris region, to deal with potential unrest.

Catherine Porter contributed reporting.

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