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French vote gives leftists most seats over far right, but leaves hung parliament and deadlock

PARIS (AP) 鈥 A coalition of the French left won the most seats in Sunday, beating back a far-right surge but failing to win a majority. The outcome left France, a pillar of the European Union and Olympic host country, facing the stunning prospect of a hung parliament and political paralysis.

The political turmoil could rattle markets and the French economy, the EU鈥檚 second-largest, and have far-ranging implications for , global diplomacy and Europe鈥檚 economic stability.

In , after the far right surged in French voting for the European Parliament, President Emmanuel Macron said turning to voters again would provide 鈥渃larification.鈥

On almost every level, that gamble appears to have backfired. According to the , all three main blocs fell far short of the 289 seats needed to control the 577-seat National Assembly, the more powerful of France鈥檚 two legislative chambers.

The results showed just over 180 seats for the New Popular Front leftist coalition, which placed first, ahead of Macron鈥檚 centrist alliance, with more than 160 seats. Marine Le Pen鈥檚 far-right National Rally and its allies were restricted to third place, although their more than 140 seats were still way ahead of the party鈥檚 previous best showing 鈥 89 seats in 2022.

A hung parliament is unknown territory for modern France.

鈥淥ur country is facing an unprecedented political situation and is preparing to welcome the world in a few weeks,” said Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who plans to offer his resignation later in the day.

With the looming, Attal said he was ready to stay at his post 鈥渁s long as duty demands.鈥 Macron has three years remaining on his presidential term.

Attal made clearer than ever his disapproval of Macron’s shock decision to call the election, saying 鈥淚 didn’t choose this dissolution” of the outgoing National Assembly, where the president’s centrist alliance used to be single biggest group, albeit without an absolute majority. Still, it was able to govern for two years, pulling in lawmakers from other camps to fight off efforts to bring it down.

The new legislature appears shorn of such stability. When Macron flies to Washington for , he will leave a country with no clear idea who may be its next prime minister and facing the prospect that the president may be obliged to share power with a politician deeply opposed to his policies.

Still, many rejoiced. In Paris鈥 Stalingrad square, supporters on the left cheered and applauded as projections showing the alliance ahead flashed up on a giant screen. Cries of joy also rang out in Republique plaza in eastern Paris, with people spontaneously hugging strangers and several minutes of nonstop applause after the projections landed.

Marielle Castry, a medical secretary, was on the Metro in Paris when projected results were first announced.

鈥淓verybody had their smartphones and were waiting for the results and then everybody was overjoyed,” said the 55-year-old. 鈥淚 had been stressed out since June 9 and the European elections. … And now, I feel good. Relieved.鈥

A redrawn political map

Even before votes were cast, the election redrew France’s political map. It galvanized parties on the left to put differences aside and join together in the new leftist alliance. It pledges to roll back many of Macron’s headline reforms, embark on a massively costly program of public spending and take a far tougher line against Israel because of the war with Hamas.

Macron described the left’s coalition as 鈥渆xtreme鈥 and warned that its economic program of many tens of billions of euros in public spending, partly financed by tax hikes for high earners and on wealth, could be ruinous for France, already criticized by EU watchdogs for its debt.

Yet, the New Popular Front’s leaders immediately pushed Macron to give the alliance the first chance to form a government and propose a prime minister.

The most prominent of the leftist coalition鈥檚 leaders, Jean-Luc M茅lenchon, said it 鈥渋s ready to govern.鈥

While the National Rally took more seats than ever, the anti-immigration party with historical links to fell far short of its hopes of securing an absolute majority that would have given France its first far-right government since World War II.

鈥淒isappointed, disappointed,” said far-right supporter Luc Doumont, 66. 鈥淲ell, happy to see our progression, because for the past few years we鈥檝e been doing better.鈥

After the party finished top of the first-round vote last weekend, its rivals worked to dash its hopes of outright victory Sunday, by strategically withdrawing candidates from many districts. That left many far-right candidates in head-to-head contests against just one opponent, making it harder for them to win.

Many voters decided that keeping the far right from power was more important to them than anything else, backing its opponents in the runoff, even if they weren鈥檛 from the political camp they usually support.

Still, National Rally leader Le Pen, expected to make a fourth run for the French presidency in 2027, said the elections laid the groundwork for 鈥渢he victory of tomorrow.鈥

鈥淭he reality is that our victory is only deferred,” she added. But Le Pen’s older sister, Marie-Caroline, was among her party’s losers Sunday, defeated by a leftist candidate and just 225 votes in her district.

, Le Pen鈥檚 28-year-old prot茅g茅 who鈥檇 been hoping to become prime minister, rued that the national outcome 鈥渢hrows France into the arms of the extreme left.鈥

A statement from Macron’s office indicated that he wouldn鈥檛 be rushed into inviting a potential prime minister to form a government. It said he was watching as results came in and would wait for the new National Assembly to take shape before taking 鈥渢he necessary decisions.鈥

Unknown territory

Unlike other countries in Europe that are more accustomed to coalition governments, France doesn鈥檛 have a tradition of lawmakers from rival political camps coming together to form a majority. France is also more centralized than many other European countries, with many more decisions made in Paris.

The president was hoping that with France鈥檚 fate in their hands, voters might shift from the far right and left and return to mainstream parties closer to the center 鈥 where Macron found much of the support that won him the presidency in 2017 and again in 2022.

But rather than rally behind him, millions of voters seized on his surprise decision as an opportunity to vent their anger about inflation, crime, immigration and other grievances 鈥 including Macron’s style of government.

The sharp polarization of French politics 鈥 especially in this torrid and quick campaign 鈥 is sure to complicate any effort to form a government. Racism and antisemitism marred the electoral campaign, along with , and more than 50 candidates reported being physically attacked 鈥 highly unusual for France.

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This story has been updated to remove exact seat tallies reported by French media to account for the fact that official results don鈥檛 give precise totals for each main bloc.

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Associated Press journalists Barbara Surk in Nice, France, and Helena Alves, Diane Jeantet, Jade Le Deley, and Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.

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Follow AP鈥檚 global election coverage at

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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