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Le Pen’s far-right party could secure a working majority in France’s parliament

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

French legislative elections have advanced to the second round of voting. In a first round yesterday, Marine Le Pen's far-right party finished in the lead with 33%, beating the left and President Emmanuel Macron's centrists. Marine Le Pen's party says it now must win a parliamentary majority in the second round of voting this coming Sunday to be able to enact its agenda. The party's opponents are determined to stop that from happening. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thomas Guenole is a political science professor in Lyon. Like many on the left, he says he's terrified by what's to come if the far right gets a majority in Parliament, but he's fighting back. He'll soon publish a handbook called "How To Fight The Far Right."

THOMAS GUENOLE: There are many, many French citizens who will want to resist, not violently, not with bombs or with hurting people, no, no, no. We're talking about civil disobedience and civil servants refusing to execute far-right orders, judicial activism and so on and so on.

BEARDSLEY: His book tells exactly how to do that - legally. It was initially planned for 2027, when he thought Marine Le Pen would have a good shot at the presidency. He had to speed things up when Macron called the snap election. In an editorial today, left-leaning daily newspaper Liberation declared, 12 million of our fellow citizens have voted for a far-right party that is clearly racist and anti-republican. But Le Pen and her followers reject that. They say the National Rally has changed, and their values are also those of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Speaking after the results last night, Le Pen called political alternates the essence of democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Democracy has spoken and put us in the lead," she said. "The French have expressed their desire to turn the page on seven years of corrosive and contemptuous rule by President Macron." She called on the French to give them a majority next Sunday. Speaking shortly after Le Pen, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said he would do everything possible to make sure that doesn't happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GABRIEL ATTAL: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Our objective is clear," he said. "We must stop the far right from implementing its dangerous agenda. Not one of our votes should go to the National Rally." The broad leftist coalition should be a natural home for centrist voters, but the presence of the far-left France Unbowed party has troubled many. Its leader, firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, has been accused of antisemitism with his virulent criticism of Israel. Speaking last night, Melenchon called the second-round stakes high.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEAN-LUC MELENCHON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We have to choose," he said. "Are we going to deepen our religious, racial and class divisions or form one people focused on the common good?" Ironically, his remarks promoting inclusiveness were made standing next to one of the party's more controversial candidates who was wearing her pro-Palestinian keffiyeh scarf. Twenty-eight-year-old Jordan Bardella is the far right's new wunderkind and would likely be the next prime minister if the National Rally gets its majority.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JORDAN BARDELLA: (Through interpreter) I plan to be the prime minister of all the French. I will listen to everyone, respect the opposition and be open to dialogue.

BEARDSLEY: It's in the far right's interest to appear as mainstream as possible during the campaign says Martin Quencez, head of the German Marshall Fund in Paris. But he says...

MARTIN QUENCEZ: Once they are - if they are in power, I think that will change.

BEARDSLEY: He says, with Macron still president, the party will be able to blame anything that goes wrong on him.

QUENCEZ: So they could actually be quite radical in terms of policy decisions without bearing the cost of this radicality because President Macron is still there.

BEARDSLEY: Analysts say there are two likely outcomes after Sunday's second round - France with a far-right agenda or a country mired in chaos and immobility, with several mutually detesting parliamentary blocs. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF LILY MOORE SONG, "BEAUTIFUL LIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.