Snap Election in France Sets Off a Wild Week of Politics - The World News

Snap Election in France Sets Off a Wild Week of Politics

Intense jockeying as left-wing rivals rush to unite. Accusations of betrayal as right-wing allies turn on one another. One party leader even briefly barricaded himself in his office.

In the days since President Emmanuel Macron of France stunned the country by dissolving the lower house of Parliament and calling snap elections, French politics have felt like a television drama on overdrive.

Parties are scrambling to forge alliances, align candidates and print leaflets for one of the shortest electoral campaigns in modern French history, with voting scheduled for June 30 and July 7. Candidacies have to be officially filed by Sunday evening.

The French president says he called the elections to respect the will of the people and to “clarify” the country’s political landscape after his party was battered in European parliamentary elections by a surging far right. He is now urging voters to reject extremes and embrace his centrist coalition.

Mr. Macron’s gamble has bewildered the electorate and forced political parties to confront long simmering internal tensions

To his political right, it has led to implosion. To his political left, it has fostered rare unity. Where it will ultimately leave him and his centrist alliance is unclear. The latest polls put the far-right National Rally party, led by Marine Le Pen and her protégé, Jordan Bardella, comfortably in the lead.

“The French political landscape has been changing daily,” Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, wrote in a note to clients.

The latest sign of that came late on Thursday, when France’s left-wing parties put aside months of squabbling and agreed to work together in the elections.

The Socialist Party, the far-left France Unbowed Party, the Greens and the Communist Party announced that they had established a common platform, ruled out competing candidates and agreed to govern jointly if they managed to obtain a majority in the lower house of Parliament.

Notably, François Hollande, the former Socialist president and predecessor to Mr. Macron, immediately gave the deal his blessing, even though he and other moderate Socialists have a contentious relationship with the far left.

“For me, the most important thing is that unity has been achieved,” Mr. Hollande told TF1 television. “There comes a point where you go beyond differences and go to what is essential.”

The mainstream right, however, is fracturing ahead of the snap elections.

France’s conservative Republican Party has been in turmoil since its president, Éric Ciotti, broke a longstanding taboo on Tuesday and made an electoral deal with the National Rally.

The National Rally has agreed not to run candidates against Mr. Ciotti or Republicans in other electoral districts who also agree to the deal.

Mr. Ciotti’s decision set off such chaos within the party that the past few days seemed to have been pulled straight from a political soap opera.

Nearly all the party’s top officials asked Mr. Ciotti to resign, but he closed the Republican headquarters in central Paris on Wednesday — ostensibly for security reasons, though more likely to prevent his colleagues from gathering to oust him — and he withdrew to his office.

The party’s top leadership convened instead in a nearby building and unanimously decided to kick Mr. Ciotti out of the party. Later, using a copy of keys to the party headquarters, they reopened the doors as dozens of reporters looked on. Mr. Ciotti was no longer inside.

But on Thursday he strolled back in, briefly addressed journalists from a balcony; released a strange 13-second clip, set to dramatic instrumental music, of himself sitting at an empty desk; and then left for lunch with Mr. Bardella.

“I’m the president of the party,” Mr. Ciotti told reporters on Thursday, saying that the move to kick him out was illegal and that he would challenge it in court. “The power grab is from those who don’t respect our statutes.”

Republican Party leaders are furious at Mr. Ciotti for going behind their backs to make a deal with the National Rally. It is still unclear how many Republicans might side with Mr. Ciotti. None of the party’s heavyweights have.

Still, his move reflected more than a personal whim. For years, the Republicans have been torn between those who felt closer to Mr. Macron’s pro-business, centrist agenda and those who were more in step with the National Rally’s harsh line on curbing immigration and tackling crime.

The far right has divisions of its own. The Reconquête party of Éric Zemmour, an extreme-right television pundit and writer who ran unsuccessfully for president, has also imploded ahead of the snap elections.

Marion Maréchal, the party’s top candidate in the European elections and a niece of Ms. Le Pen, accused Mr. Zemmour of wanting to run his own candidates against the National Rally.

On French television, Mr. Zemmour accused Ms. Maréchal of lying and said she was surrounded by “professional betrayers.” He promptly kicked her and several others out of the party.

“It’s tragic and a bit ridiculous,” Gaspard Gantzer, a former adviser to Mr. Hollande, said of the week’s political chaos.

“But I think things will stabilize this weekend,” he said.

Those running in the snap elections have until Sunday evening to officially file their candidacies, leaving less than two weeks to campaign — very little time, Mr. Gantzer noted, for Mr. Macron’s gamble to pay off.

Members of Mr. Macron’s centrist alliance — many of whom were surprised by his decision to call snap elections — have tried to characterize the frenzied attempts to build alliances as disconnected from voters.

“We aren’t in party headquarters making backroom deals,” Gabriel Attal, the prime minister and a member of Mr. Macron’s Renaissance party, said on Thursday during a campaign stop in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in northern France. “We are on the ground.”

But some voters have questioned why Mr. Macron provoked the political chaos in the first place.

Éric Le Goff, 62, who works for a chamber of commerce, said near the Republican headquarters in Paris that Mr. Ciotti had made a “disgusting, dishonorable” move by dealing with the National Rally, and he called the chaos on the right a “clown show.”

But, he added, “trapping French people in a three-week, hasty campaign where we’re stuck between the two extremes, frankly, is not a good move on the part of the president,” Mr. Le Goff said. “One gets the impression that he is in denial.”

Catherine Porter and Ségolène Le Stradic contributed reporting.

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