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France begins choosing new parliament in test for Macron

France votes on Sunday in parliamentary elections, with allies of President Emmanuel Macron seeking to retain a majority in the face of an increasingly competitive challenge from a new left-wing coalition.

Elections for the 577 seats in the lower house National Assembly are a two-round process. The shape of the new parliament will become clear only after the second round, a week later, on June 19.

The ballots provide a crucial coda to April’s presidential election, when Macron won re-election and pledged a transformative new era after a first term dominated by protests, the Covid pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Stepping into the fray on Thursday, Macron acknowledged the stakes were high, warning France against choosing “extremes” which would add “crisis to crisis”.

“If the presidential election is crucial, the legislative election is decisive,” he said on a visit to the rural Tarn region, calling for a “strong and clear majority”.

If the president’s centrist alliance Ensemble (Together) retains an overall majority, he will be able to carry on governing as before. 

Falling short could prompt a coalition with right-wing parties and an unwanted cabinet shuffle only weeks after the government was revamped.

A win by the left-wing alliance –- seen as unlikely by analysts but not impossible –- would be a disaster for Macron. 

It would raise the spectre of a clunky “cohabitation” — where the prime minister and president hail from different factions — of the kind that has paralysed French politics in the past.

Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, a former Marxist, has already made clear his ambition to become prime minister and stymie Macron’s plan to raise the French retirement age, although the president would retain control over foreign policy.

– ‘Lowered ambitions’ –

While Macron and his European Union allies breathed a heavy sigh of relief after his solid if unspectacular presidential victory against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the last weeks have brought no sense of a honeymoon.

Energy and food prices are soaring in France as elsewhere in Europe, the treatment of English fans at the Champions League final in Paris damaged France’s image abroad and Macron has been accused by Ukraine of being too accommodating to Russia.

His new disabilities minister Damien Abad faced two rape accusations –- which he vehemently denied –- while new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has yet to make an impact.

Meanwhile, the French left has moved on from the disunity that saw it fail to make the presidential election run-off by forming the NUPES alliance, which groups Melenchon’s hard-left France Unbowed party, the Socialists, Greens and Communists.

It is mounting an increasingly serious challenge to Macron’s own alliance, though the two-round system and an abstention rate predicted to reach record levels of well over 50 percent could both play into the hands of the president.

The Together alliance and…

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