Macron's ministers say a polarising French election risks stoking unrest


  • World
  • Monday, 24 Jun 2024

A man walks past election posters outside a polling station, ahead of the French parliamentary elections, in Paris, France, June 22, 2024. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France could face civil disorder and violence connected to a snap parliamentary election in which the far-right looks poised to win the largest share of the vote, two ministers from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist government said on Monday.

Marine Le Pen's nationalist, anti-immigrant Rassemblement National (RN) came first in European Union elections two weeks ago, prompting Macron to dissolve parliament and call an election that will take place just before the start of the Paris Olympics on July 26.

The interior and finance ministers expressed worry on Monday that the far-right's success and the polarisation in French politics and society could lead to a surge in civil unrest.

"I fear for order, for relations between citizens, for serenity, for civil peace," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on France Info radio.

"I don't see the RN as a factor of stability and peace. I see it as a factor of disorder and violence," he said.

RN leader Jordan Bardella, who could be prime minister if the RN wins the election - with Macron staying on as president in a power-sharing arrangement - said he would show zero tolerance for violence, from whichever side it came.

"If I'm prime minister in a few days, I intend to disband organisations that foment violence in our society, whether they're from the ultra-left or the ultra-right," he said during a press conference.

"I would protect individual freedoms, the freedom to protest ... My red line is violence," he said.

Opinion polls suggest the RN has the most support ahead of the first round of voting on June 30, with a new alliance of left-wing parties, the New Popular Front (NFP), in second place and Macron's centrist Together group in third.

A run-off will take place on July 7.

EMPOWERING XENOPHOBES?

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin warned of the potential for "extremely strong tensions".

He told RTL radio that this was a concern not just for the election period, but also for the autumn return to work after the August summer break.

The RN, whose forerunner the National Front was long a pariah in French politics due to the openly antisemitic views of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has tried hard to detoxify its brand under the leadership of his daughter Marine Le Pen.

But its opponents say their concerns are not only about the party itself but also the attitude of some of its more fringe supporters.

France's openly gay prime minister, Gabriel Attal, who is leading the centrists' campaign, said last week that he feared xenophobes of all stripes would feel empowered by an RN win.

Attal cited media reports of a suspect in a homophobic attack telling police that he was looking forward to a far-right victory because it would make it easier to assault gay people.

"You see a form of hate that would be liberated, authorised in a way," Attal told reporters.

Britain experienced a surge in hate crime against Poles, Muslims and other minorities after a majority of voters backed leaving the European Union in a 2016 referendum, partly driven by a desire to curb immigration, according to official figures.

France itself has a history of riots and violent street protests rooted in social divides. The fatal police shooting of a teenage boy of Algerian descent triggered days of nationwide rioting last summer.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Richard Lough, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Alex Richardson)

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