In France, three-way election battles could bring more far-right MPs

By Juliette Jabkhiro

MAGNY-EN-VEXIN, France (Reuters) - On the campaign trail in Magny-en-Vexin, French centrist candidate Emilie Chandler is determined to maintain her bid in a three-way race for her parliamentary constituency, even if it risks raising the odds of a far-right win locally.

Chandler's constituency in this scenic part of the Val d'Oise, an hour's drive northwest of Paris, is one of the roughly 100 three-way election battles the far-right National Rally (RN) will need to win if it is to have a chance of securing an absolute majority in Sunday's election.

France's electoral system allows any candidate whose first-round vote amounts to 12.5% of registered voters to proceed to the decisive second round. Historically, a more fragmented second round has benefited the far right.

Chandler's chances of victory are slim, having polled third with 25% of cast votes in the first round, behind rivals from the far right and the left-wing New Popular Front (NPF). But she nonetheless defends her decision.

"I didn't want to abandon my electorate," said Chandler, who is running on French President Emmanuel Macron's Together alliance ticket.

"I wouldn't have done it without the consent of the prime minister's office. It's because I'm in a very specific situation, with dangerous opponents."

Nationwide, the first round had originally left three-way contests in about 300 of the races for the National Assembly's 577 seats. In the past days, more than 200 third-placed candidates have withdrawn their candidacy in an attempt to block the far right from holding power.

Opinion polls suggest this so-called "republican front" may have an impact, now projecting that the RN will win fewer seats than previously thought and likely to be short of an absolute majority. It is still expected to win the largest share of seats in parliament.

Chandler defended her decision by saying her constituents would not give their vote to the NFP's candidate who hails from the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, perceived as more extreme than other parties in the leftist coalition.


But the pill was hard to swallow for local business owner Mourad Elferdi, who voted NFP in the first round and told Reuters he was afraid of what he called the far right's hateful discourse. He said he wished Chandler had withdrawn her candidacy.

"I'm worried about my kids, how do you want me to explain the situation to them," said Elferdi. "It's beyond sad."

NFP candidate Maximilien Jules-Arthur, a native of the nearby working class town of Sarcelles, described Chandler's decision as "shameful".

"When we had to stop the far right, we did. We did it in 2022. We did it in 2017," said Jules-Arthur.

"It's really shameful and irresponsible coming from people who accuse us (LFI) of not being republican," the 24-year-old said. "They're giving a free pass to people who are extremely dangerous."

The far-right candidate, Anne Sicard, who is running on a RN-backed ticket, rejected the idea she espoused dangerous ideas.

"I'm not racist or xenophobic, I just love the culture I was born into," she told Reuters by telephone.

Until last month, Sicard was campaigning with the Reconquete party of Eric Zemmour, a former far-right presidential candidate who has been convicted for inciting racial hatred crimes and is renowned for provocative statements on Islam and immigration.

Sicrad said France had hit an unsustainable level of immigration that was causing problems across society. The RN would also defend the budgets of hard-up households.

"The French are suffering from taxes. Purchasing power is what the state leaves you."

Pensioner Gerard De Dios said he wanted to give the RN a try after voting for Macron's party in the past two elections.

"I want things to change," he said, citing insecurity.

Crime was not a problem in his village of 600 people but he no longer dared take the train to Paris, he added.

Three-way races should be maintained to give voters the fullest choice possible, he continued, echoing comments by far-right chief Marine Le Pen that the strategy to withdraw candidates to hinder the far right was an insult to voters' intelligence and their political loyalties.

"You have to let everyone decide for themselves - or change the rules altogether," de Dios said.

(Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro; editing by Richard Lough and Angus MacSwan)