Le Pen Seeks Majority as Rival Groups Team Up to Stop Her

(Bloomberg) -- Marine Le Pen’s National Rally is scrambling to get an absolute majority in the final round of France’s legislative election Sunday as rival parties are maneuvering to keep the far-right party out of power.

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President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist group and the broad, left-wing New Popular Front alliance have pulled their candidates out of 215 runoffs with more than two candidates to avoid splitting the vote against the far right, according to a count by Le Monde newspaper.

In response, the National Rally has been seeking allies to help it win a majority in the 577-seat lower house of parliament in order to enable it to implement a program that includes reversing the government’s pension reform, reducing value-added tax and cutting certain aid for foreigners.

“Yes, we will have an absolute majority,” National Rally President Jordan Bardella told Le Figaro in an interview published on Wednesday. “The only project and only ambition carried by all my adversaries in this election is to stop me winning.”

The election on Sunday is forcing voters to make up their minds about whether they prefer Macron’s pro-business, pro-Europe, pro-Ukraine vision for France or Le Pen’s agenda of dramatically cutting migration, stepping back from European Union rules and undoing some of Macron’s pension reforms.

To get the 289 seats he needs in the National Assembly, Bardella said he’s ready to reach out to center-right Republicans who “cannot legitimately be satisfied to see a coalition” that includes Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon, of the far-left France Unbowed, in power. Some Republicans, led by Eric Ciotti, have already formed an alliance with National Rally.

“If I need to widen my majority, I will,” Bardella said. He’s previously said he would only accept an invitation to be prime minister if his party and its allies win an absolute majority. The president traditionally nominates that position from the largest group in parliament.

Macron dissolved the National Assembly earlier this month and called a snap vote after his group was trounced in European Parliament elections, a decision that initially led to the worst bond rout since the sovereign debt crisis and wiped almost $200 billion off the value of stocks.

French 10-year bonds inched higher after their best daily performance in two weeks on Tuesday. The risk premium this debt pays compared to German peers was little changed after rallying to the tightest closing level since June 13.

French equities bounced back on Wednesday, with the CAC 40 gaining 1%, led by banking stocks including Societe Generale SA, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Agricole SA. The benchmark index is still down about 5% since the election was called.

“In the last few days, the market has been sort of celebrating the likelihood that France could have a hung parliament,” Rabobank’s head of FX strategy Jane Foley said on Bloomberg Television. “A hung parliament means that it’s not going to be able to really make much additional progress in bringing down its budget deficit — meaning that it is in line for further difficulties with Brussels.”

National Rally and its allies dominated the first round of voting this past Sunday, getting 33.2% of the vote. The left-wing New Popular Front alliance got 28%, while President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition won 20.8%.

According to a new analysis from think tank Institut Montaigne, campaign promises made by the various parties would vary radically in cost, with the left-wing alliance coming in highest largely on its promise to cut the retirement age.

The study found that promises by the leftist New Popular Front would require nearly €95 billion ($102 billion) in extra funds per year once they’re all implemented. The far-right National Rally’s plans came in at about €48 billion, while Macron’s party and its allies would incur extra spending over time of close to €15 billion.

“France’s planned post-Covid, post-energy crisis consolidation of its public finances risks being deferred considering the most likely outcomes of the legislative elections, with potentially important consequences for euro-area investor sentiment,” Scope Ratings analysts Thomas Gillet and Brian Marly wrote.

The National Rally is the only party with a reasonable shot at an absolute majority, which means if it falls short, there would be a hung parliament, in which Macron would still dictate foreign policy and would need to compromise on a prime minister, who would run domestic policy.

According to Le Monde, 132 candidates from the left and 83 from Macron’s group have pulled out of three- and four-way runoffs. The Interior Ministry is due to publish a final count later on Wednesday.

“If we’ve succeeded in what we’ve done with the withdrawals, it’s precisely the proof that it’s possible to prevent an extreme right-wing victory,” French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told France Inter radio.

Former Socialist President Francois Hollande, speaking on Franceinfo radio, cautioned that the risk of a National Rally majority had been “minimized but not avoided.”

--With assistance from Blaise Robinson, Rachel Evans, Craig Stirling and Naomi Tajitsu.

(Updates with Scope Ratings comment in 15th paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected figures from Institut Montaigne.)

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