In post-vote turmoil, French left seeks to rule but centrists demand role

By Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) -Leaders from the left-wing bloc that came first in France's legislative election and the runner-up centrists have engaged in a frenzied race to be first to cobble together a viable government, lawmakers and other sources told Reuters.

The unexpected outcome of the July 7 snap election has plunged France into uncertainty just before the Paris Olympics, with no obvious path to a stable government capable of getting any legislation passed by a fragmented parliament.

France, a pillar of the NATO military alliance and the euro zone's second largest economy, seems consigned to a period of protracted haggling that will be negative for the country's credit rating, Moody's has warned.

The left-wing New Popular Front (NFP), which has been holding a series of talks, said it intended to govern according to its tax-and-spend programme and that it merely needs a bit of time to organise itself. It has said it aims for a deal by the end of this week or early next week.

"There are countries (unlike France) that have a culture of this (putting together a government with no majority) and take six months to form a government," Boris Vallaud, a Socialist lawmaker whose name is one of those mentioned as a possible prime minister, told Reuters.

"We are working on finding ways and means to change the lives of French people ... Is it simple? No. Is it necessary? Yes," Vallaud said.

But the centrists loyal to President Emmanuel Macron have laid claim to a role, as the left lacks a majority.

Phones are ringing constantly, with some calls made by centrists trying to poach enough lawmakers from the mainstream left to create the basis for a government, political sources said. "We are getting in touch with people across the board," one centrist lawmaker said.

One thing seemed clear - centrists do not want the hardline leftist La France Insoumise (LFI, or France Unbowed) party in any governing deal, but are open to allies from the more moderate left-wingers within the NFP.

DEAL OR NO DEAL?

After a meeting of the centrist group, Renaissance lawmaker Pierre Cazeneuve told Reuters: "We have reaffirmed our red lines: No deal with France Unbowed and no deal with the (far right) National Rally (RN)."

The RN placed third in the runoff election, confounding opinion polls which had projected a far right victory.

Within the NFP, a battle was raging between its factions to claim the largest number of MPs and thereby assert leadership of the bloc. For now, France Unbowed claims an edge of some 10 MPs but, unlike the LFI, the more moderate Socialists are more likely to convince independent leftists to join them.

Lawmakers have until parliament's first post-election session on July 18 to decide which group they will belong to.

Meanwhile, overtures from centrists have so far been rebuffed by NFP members who have rejected the idea of breaking up their loose alliance.

Some on the left countered that the centrist bloc should be the one to break up with some of its members supporting the NFP.

"To speak plainly, I'm thinking about left-leaning Macronists who might be open to joining us. We'd be open to that," Johanna Rolland, the Socialist mayor of Nantes, said on France 2 television.

Macron, whose term ends in 2027, looks unlikely to be able to drive policy again, having been beaten by the far-right RN in last month's European election and by the left in the snap legislative election he called against the will of some of his own supporters including Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

Macron has asked Attal to stay on as prime minister for the time being to provide a modicum of stability.

Within the NFP camp, there appeared to be no consensus on who should replace Attal.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the firebrand leader of France Unbowed, and other senior LFI members all said the next premier should be someone from their party, the biggest in the NFP.

But NFP leaders from other parties have said Melenchon is too divisive and have not conceded that the head of government should be someone from France Unbowed.

Several other names have been circulating frequently including Socialist leader Olivier Faure; Raphael Glucksmann, who led France's left-wing ticket in the European elections; and Green leader Marine Tondelier.

Meanwhile, the Paris prosecutor's office said it had begun a preliminary inquiry into allegations of illegal financing of far right RN leader Marine Le Pen's campaign for the 2022 presidential race, which she lost to Macron.

Le Pen and her party have previously denied wrongdoing in connection with campaign financing.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Tassilo Hummel; writing by Ingrid Melander and Estelle Shirbon; editing by Keith Weir and Mark Heinrich)