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What to know about France’s leftist alliance after shock election win

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A leftist coalition in France has emerged as the surprising victor after the second and decisive round of voting in legislative elections Sunday. The newly formed New Popular Front finished ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist coalition and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party.

The electoral triumph of the new alliance was a shock to many, after decades in which the French left has been defined by its deep divisions. But the strong performance by Le Pen’s anti-immigrant movement in the first round inspired the country’s various leftist forces to band together. Now, France may be entering a period of political gridlock as it figures out how exactly it will govern a divided country.

Here’s what to know.

The New Popular Front was an 11th-hour alliance, born out of perceived necessity, bringing together two moderate left-wing parties — the center-left Socialist Party and the Green Party — and two far-left movements: Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed and the Communist Party.

France's leftist coalition emerged as the surprising victor July 7 after the second round of voting in legislative elections. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

The alliance wants to lower the retirement age, which Macron raised last year, and vastly expand government spending on social welfare, environmental protection and health care. Centrist critics had argued that the leftist alliance was too extreme and divided to be a primary opponent to the far right.

Macron called snap elections last month after his coalition was trounced by the National Rally in European parliamentary elections, gambling that the possibility of a far-right government would push French voters to reaffirm his mandate.

While he appeared Sunday to have been correct about how the public would respond to the threat of the country’s first far-right government since World War II, he seemingly underestimated the appeal of the left.

In the first round, the New Popular Front came in second with 28 percent of the vote, behind the 33 percent of votes cast for National Rally. Macron’s centrist alliance secured only 21 percent.

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French elections are decided at the district level, so while the National Rally and the New Popular Front had more than 30 candidates each who won more than 50 percent of the vote and were elected to Parliament outright, other districts went to a runoff between the top two or three candidates.

In districts where Le Pen’s candidates won a narrow victory, the leftist alliance and Macron’s centrist coalition combined efforts, encouraging weaker candidates to drop off the ballot. Candidates from the left, including Mélenchon’s France Unbowed, were primarily the ones who renounced their second-round participation, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper.

The fragmented coalition is composed of four groups that are themselves very different but have since made concessions to form their alliance. The far-left France Unbowed holds most of the alliance’s won seats, followed by the center-left Socialist Party, with the Greens and Communist Party trailing.

The alliance’s policy platform was influenced by the far-left France Unbowed and pledges “acts of rupture” to respond to France’s “social emergency, climate challenge, the repair of public services, a path of appeasement in France and around the world.” Among its points are capping the prices of food and fuel, decreasing the retirement age, increasing the minimum wage, boosting affordable housing, taking steps toward covering all school-related costs and enhancing green measures.

The alliance has not outlined a clear foreign policy vision, but it has said it wants to continue supporting Ukraine. After the elections, Mélenchon said on X that “we will have to agree to recognize the State of Palestine” — a campaign promise of the alliance.

Mélenchon has had more radical policies in the past, running in 2022 on a platform that included “disobey[ing] European rules that are incompatible” with his program and suspending French participation in European defense and any permanent military alliance, including NATO.

Can the center (left) hold?

By Monday, the attention turned in France to how the deeply divided nation could find its footing through uncharted political territory. While the New Popular Front has come out on top, it is nowhere close to securing a parliamentary majority. Unless moderate members of the alliance are able to form a government with Macron’s centrist allies, France could be headed for political gridlock with just weeks until Paris is set to host the Olympics.

On Monday, Macron rejected the resignation of his prime minister, Gabriel Attal, and asked him to stay on “for the time being.”

There’s no constitutional requirement for Macron to offer the office to the biggest political bloc, but it would be customary for him to do so. The New Popular Front has no single leader, and the search for a joint candidate to propose as prime minister threatens to deepen divisions within the fragile coalition, which continues to show signs of fraying.

After the first projections Sunday, Mélenchon, the most widely known figure in the alliance, called on Macron to invite the bloc to form a government. “The president must bow and admit this defeat without trying to circumvent it,” Mélenchon said. “No subterfuge, arrangement or combination would be acceptable” to keep his coalition from power, he added.

But even some within the leftist coalition view Mélenchon as too radical. Formed with the express intent of defeating Le Pen, it remains to be seen if its members can continue to paper over their differences and present a united front.

Even before the vote, on Thursday, François Ruffin, one of the most charismatic figures on the left, broke with Mélenchon, calling him an “obstacle,” and saying he would no longer align himself with the radical left in the National Assembly if reelected.

Macron has said the far left is just as dangerous as the far right, particularly France Unbowed, and alleged last month that the alliance includes parties that propagate antisemitism. Some voters told The Washington Post in advance of the runoff that it was Macron’s alarmist rhetoric about the left that had rallied them to support the New Popular Front.

To form their alliance, leftist parties had to agree on one candidate per constituency. To the frustration of the moderate left, which includes the Socialist Party that long shaped French politics, Mélenchon’s party obtained a particularly high share of candidates.

Rick Noack and Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.

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