French election second round turnout nearly 60% at 5 pm

French election second round turnout nearly 60% at 5 pm

Voting has begun in France in pivotal runoff elections that could hand a historic victory to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally - or produce a hung parliament and potentially months of political deadlock.

The first round of voting on June 30th saw the largest gains ever for the National Rally.

By 5 pm on Sunday, turnout was 59.7%, according to France's interior ministry.

The result of Sunday’s vote will ultimately determine which party controls the National Assembly and who will be prime minister.

If support for Macron’s weak centrist majority continues to erode, he will be forced to share power with parties opposed to most of his pro-business, pro-European Union policies.

30,000 police deployed

Racism and anti-semitism have marred the electoral campaign, along with Russian cyber-campaigns, and more than 50 candidates have reported being physically attacked — highly unusual for France.

The government is deploying 30,000 police on voting day "so that the far left or the far right" do not create "disorder," the minister of the interior, Gérald Darmanin, announced on Thursday.

"Something is happening that borders on the release of violence," Darmanin said in an interview on Thursday with France 2 TV channel following an attack on government spokesperson Prisca Thévenot.

The heightened tensions come as France prepares to host the Olympic Games and as the national football team reaches the semi-final of the Euro 2024 championship.

Meanwhile, 49 million voters are in the midst of the country’s most important elections in decades.

France could have its first far-right government since the Nazi occupation in World War II if the National Rally wins an absolute majority and its 28-year-old leader Jordan Bardella becomes prime minister.

The party came out on top in the previous week's first-round voting, followed by a coalition of centre-left, hard-left and Green parties, and Macron’s centrist alliance.

Outcome remains highly uncertain

Polls between the two rounds suggest that the National Rally may win the most seats in the 577-seat National Assembly but fall short of the 289 seats needed for a majority.

If it wins the majority, Macron would be forced to share power in an awkward arrangement known in France as "cohabitation."

Another possibility is that no party has a majority, resulting in a hung parliament.

That could prompt Macron to pursue coalition negotiations with the centre-left or name a technocratic government with no political affiliations.

Both would be unprecedented for modern France, and make it more difficult for the European Union’s No. 2 economy to make bold decisions on arming Ukraine, reforming labour laws or reducing its huge deficit.

Financial markets have been jittery since Macron surprised even his closest allies in June by announcing snap elections after the National Rally won the most seats for France in European Parliament elections.

Many French voters, especially in small towns and rural areas, are frustrated with low incomes and a Paris political leadership seen as elitist and unconcerned with workers' day-to-day struggles.

National Rally has connected with those voters, often by blaming immigration for France's problems, and has built up broad and deep support over the past decade.

Elections wrap up late Sunday

Le Pen has softened many of the party's positions. She no longer calls for quitting NATO and the EU, for example.

The second-round voting began Saturday in France’s overseas territories from the South Pacific to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and North Atlantic.

The elections wrap up Sunday at 8 pm CET in mainland France. Initial polling projections are expected Sunday night, with early official results expected late Sunday and early Monday.

Macron said he won’t step down and will stay president until his term ends in 2027.