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French absentee voters scramble to have their say in high-stakes election

Hundreds of thousands of absentee voters have made requests to hand their voting rights to loved ones for France’s high-stakes election (Ludovic Marin/AP)
Hundreds of thousands of absentee voters have made requests to hand their voting rights to loved ones for France’s high-stakes election (Ludovic Marin/AP)

Voters who do not expect to be able to cast ballots themselves are scrambling to make their voices heard in France’s high-stakes legislative election by signing up in their hundreds of thousands to hand their voting rights to loved ones and friends.

The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that it counted 410,000 such requests in the first week after President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement on June 9 that he was dissolving France’s National Assembly, parliament’s lower house.

That bombshell followed a humbling defeat by the National Rally party in the European Parliament election.

France Election
President Emmanuel Macron called a snap national election following a humbling defeat by the National Rally party in the European Parliament election (Michel Euler/AP)

The ministry said the number is six and a half times more than it registered for the same weeklong period in the last legislative election in 2022.

The rush by voters to complete paperwork that will allow other people they trust to cast ballots for them in the first stage on June 30 of the two-round election is partly because of time pressures.

Mr Macron’s surprise decision and the compressed time frame between parliament’s dissolution and the election caught voters off guard, with some already having made other plans.

The election — in which the decisive second round is July 7 — also bumps up against the start of France’s annual summer vacation season, when millions head to beaches and elsewhere.

The surge in registrations by likely absentee voters also reflects the importance they are attaching to the election, which is already reshaping the French political landscape even before ballots are cast.

The prospect that the vote could produce France’s first far-right government since the Nazi occupation in the Second World War had a shocking effect on the National Rally’s opponents on the left of French politics.

Within days of Mr Macron’s announcement, parties on the left that were previously divided put differences aside to form a coalition to counter the far-right’s surge.

France Election
Jordan Bardella, the far-right National Rally leader, is hoping to be France’s next prime minister (Thibault Camus/AP)

With frenzied campaigning now underway, voters are already preparing to make their choice between the two opposing camps — or Mr Macron’s centrist bloc in the middle.

Remi Lefebvre, a professor of political science at Lille University, said on broadcaster France Info that voters who make arrangements for others to cast ballots for them tend to be politically engaged and well-informed.

That hundreds of thousands have done so suggests that they view the election as “absolutely decisive in their personal agendas and in political life,” he said.

The stakes are “very high,” Mr Lefebvre added, “because of the perspective of victory by the extreme right so that incites electors to vote.”

Jordan Bardella, the National Rally president hoping to become France’s prime minister, appealed Tuesday to voters to hand his party a clear majority.

“There is an historical opportunity to turn the tide of history, to change the policy in our country and change course. But in order to do so, I need to have an absolute majority,” he said in a broadcast interview with CNews.