France Votes in Pivotal Election with Far Right Eyeing Historic Win Amid Political Tension

France is voting in one of its most significant elections in years, with the far right hoping for a historic victory, but political stalemate is the more likely result.

For the first time, the anti-immigration National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella has a realistic chance of running the government and taking outright control of the National Assembly. However, after the RN’s first-round victory in the snap parliamentary elections last Sunday, more than 200 rival candidates dropped out to give others a better chance of defeating the far right.

Voting began in mainland France at 08:00 (06:00 GMT), and the first exit polls will be released 12 hours later. Regardless of the outcome, it is difficult to see President Emmanuel Macron coming out of this well. Four weeks ago, he called a snap vote in response to the RN’s victory in European elections, minutes after the party’s 28-year-old leader, Jordan Bardella, challenged him to do so.

The two-round election came as a shock to a country gearing up for the start of the Paris Olympics on 26 July. Security was already tight, and now 30,000 police have been deployed during this period of heightened political tension.

Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Marine Le Pen (L) and Leader of the French extreme right party Rassemblement National (RN, National Front) Jordan Bardella (R), outside of polling station in Malakoff, near Paris

There are concerns about potential violence in Paris and other French cities, regardless of the election outcome. A planned protest outside the National Assembly on Sunday evening has been banned.

In Dreux, a historic town on the road to Normandy, the vote coincides with the passage of the Olympic flame. “For us, it’s a massive thing, bigger than the election,” says Pauline at the tourist office. The flame has been traveling around France for almost two months, and Dreux is celebrating its arrival with a weekend of festivities.

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