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There's been a stunning upset in the weekend elections in France

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

France's far-right party fell far short in legislative elections yesterday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The party known as National Rally had been expected to dominate. Instead, it was routed by a diverse leftist coalition cobbled together only weeks ago.

FADEL: Also unexpectedly, President Emmanuel Macron's centrists came in a close second in the newly recomposed parliament. We go to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris to find out what's next. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: So, what happened?

BEARDSLEY: Well, this was a huge surprise and an upset for the rar right, as you've said. What happened is that the French turned out massively. There was historic participation - over 67%. Millions voted to block the far right. And this is what they call le front republicain, or the republican front, in action. People told me they became frightened in the last week because, if you'll remember, the hard-right National Rally Party of Marine Le Pen was in the lead after the first round of voting.

FADEL: Right.

BEARDSLEY: I went last night to Paris's Place de la République where people from the left were gathering, and this is what it sounded like when the first results were announced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Cheering).

BEARDSLEY: People were exhilarated. It turned into a big party. There was singing and chanting, and at one point, the crowd was chanting everybody detests Bardella, referring to Jordan Bardella, the young leader of the National Rally party, who could have been France's next prime minister, had they gotten their majority in parliament. I met 52-year-old art teacher Cecile Pallisere chanting away. She told me she was so relieved, she couldn't stop crying and hugging everyone. Here she is.

CECILE PALLISERE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: She said, "France does not deserve crazy, racist xenophobes like them. We are a nation made up of lots of colors and cultures, and that's our richness. It's about generosity and sharing." So, Leila, that was the mood last night.

FADEL: So I'm hearing a lot of relief and excitement from voters on the left, but no one party has a majority of seats in the parliament. So what happens now?

BEARDSLEY: Well, back to reality, and it's a big political mess. The French Parliament is divided into three blocks, and no one has a majority. You know, countries like Germany and Italy are used to coalition governments, but this is an absolutely unprecedented situation for modern France. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal handed in his resignation this morning. That was expected. But President Macron refused it. He asked him to stay on to keep a government in place. Some continuity to oversee things like, you know, the Olympic Games starting very soon, which is a huge security challenge that the government is deeply involved in. Analysts say this next phase of forming a new government in this new parliament could take weeks. And they're referring to this next period as the third round of the elections, you know, the deal making, the horse trading and the compromise needed to get a working government. And this parliament has bigger extremes in it than it ever had before - extreme right and extreme left, which could make it harder to get a working majority.

FADEL: And what did the far right say about its defeat?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they were clearly disappointed. They thought it was going to be a question of just how big their majority would be. Here's Marine Le Pen speaking last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: She said if there had not been this unnatural deal between President Macron and the left, we would be the majority party today. She's talking about the fact that to defeat the far right in about 300 three-way runoff races in the second round, either the centrist candidate or the leftist candidate dropped out so as not to split the vote against the far right. She said that had distorted the voting block to the true aspirations of the French. Now, they got together to block the right, but the centrist and left will find it very difficult to build a government. They don't have much in common. And in fact, this left wing coalition is so diverse. They have deep divisions ranging from communists to ecologists. They're going to have a difficult time. Marine Le Pen reminded us that her party still has more seats than it ever has, and it's the largest party in parliament, because remember, the two other blocks are coalitions. So the French far right has hardly gone away.

FADEL: Eleanor Beardsley, thank you so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.