France set for record turnout as voters head to polls for final round of parliamentary elections

France set for record turnout as voters head to polls for final round of parliamentary elections

French voters have turned out in record numbers for the second round of the parliamentary election, with the far-right National Rally (RN) poised to make significant gains.

Polling stations opened at 8am on Sunday, and by noon 26 per cent of eligible voters had already cast their ballots - the highest midday turnout since 1981. The surge in participation follows President Emmanuel Macron's surprise decision to call a snap election last month.

Recent opinion polls suggest the RN could emerge as the largest party in the National Assembly, although it may fall short of an absolute majority. If no party secures a clear majority, France could face a period of political instability and policy gridlock.

The high stakes of this election are reflected in the exceptional voter turnout, highlighting the polarised political landscape in Europe's second-largest economy.

While President Macron would retain his position regardless of the outcome, a National Rally majority would mark the first far-right governance of France since World War II.

Macron called this snap election in the lead-up to Paris hosting the Olympic Games, following his Renaissance party's (formerly En Marche) disappointing performance in the European Parliament elections.

Polling stations will close at 4pm BST, with exit poll results expected at 8pm.

This election has seen Macron's centrist government face off against strong opposition from both the left and far-right, highlighting France's increasingly polarised political landscape.

"The country is facing three radically opposed views of society," said Olivier Grisal, a retiree, as he walked towards his polling site in the middle-class town of Conflans Sainte-Honorine, west of Paris, with his wife.

Opinion polls forecast Marine Le Pen's RN will emerge the dominant force as voters punish Macron over a cost of living crisis and being out of touch with the hardships people face.

However, the RN is seen failing to reach the 289-seat target that would outright hand Le Pen's 28-year-old Jordan Bardella the prime minister's job with a working majority.

The far right's projected margin of victory has narrowed since Macron's centrist Together alliance and the left-wing New Popular Front (NPF) pulled scores of candidates from three-way races in the second round in a bid to unify the anti-RN vote.

"France is on the cliff-edge and we don't know if we're going to jump," Raphael Glucksmann, a member of the European Parliament who led France's leftist ticket in last month's European vote, told France Inter radio last week.