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Voters in France will cast their ballots in a run-off election

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Voters in France cast ballots for a new parliament tomorrow. Three blocs are facing off - the centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron, the far-right coalition of Marine Le Pen, which won the most support in the first round, and a leftist coalition. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. Eleanor, thanks for being with us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What do the latest polls say?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they say that Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally will likely be the dominant party in the next French Parliament, getting a relative majority. You know, they're asking voters to give them an absolute majority - that would be 289 seats - so they can enact their agenda with their new leader, who took over from Marine Le Pen in 2022. He's Jordan Bardella, 28 years old, and he would be France's next prime minister if they get an absolute majority. Let's listen to him speaking to this crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JORDAN BARDELLA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He's talking about immigration. The National Rally says their first moves would be to crack down on mass immigration and crime, and by the way, they link the two. Bardella has been like a star of this campaign. He speaks well. He has shrewd political smarts. And, Scott, he has more than a million followers on TikTok, bringing in young voters in droves.

If they don't get their absolute majority, though, he would not become prime minister. We would likely see gridlock as three mutually detesting blocs confront each other in the French parliament if that happens.

SIMON: Mutually detesting blocs is a memorable phrase. What's the campaign been like, Eleanor?

BEARDSLEY: Well, like none I've ever seen - huge tensions because the far right is on the cusp of power for the first time - this party for the first time. The French have always banded together to block them. They call it the republican front. But this time it's not so clear. The party says it's changed. They're - you know, they say they're just a regular party on the right. They've definitely widened their electorate. They look more mainstream.

Marine Le Pen broke with her father's antisemitism and some of those old racist views. And some very important people believe that. I want you to listen to 88-year-old Serge Klarsfeld here speaking to the AP. Klarsfeld is a Holocaust survivor who spent his life tracking down Nazis to bring them to justice. He's a huge moral figure. And he says, if it came down to choosing between the far right and the far left, he'd support the far right. Listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGE KLARSFELD: It's very simple. Marine Le Pen is the head of a party which supports Israel and supports the Jews against the Islam.

BEARDSLEY: He's referring to the terrorist attacks in France in recent years carried out by radical Islamists. You know, the far left is now considered the antisemitic party in France because it has taken a very pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel stance, which people say is becoming antisemitic. And Le Pen has been a staunch defender of Israel. And this is a sensitive issue, Scott, in a country - in Europe's, you know, largest Jewish and Muslim populations.

SIMON: What's the opposition of the far right been saying?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, this is being billed as, you know, a struggle for the soul of the nation. A lot of people do not believe that this far-right party has changed. You know, it's the kind of vote that's splitting families and friends, and we know all about that in the U.S., right?

SIMON: Yeah.

BEARDSLEY: We've seen people getting involved in politics who aren't usually involved, like, you know, actors, sports stars like Kylian Mbappe, the soccer star who urged young people to come together and vote against these extremists. This week, 20 French rappers released a song. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO PASARAN")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS: (Rapping in French).

BEARDSLEY: You know, it's called "No Pasaran." It's named after an anti-fascist slogan from the Spanish Civil War, urging the young to get out and vote.

SIMON: Fears of violence during the voting tomorrow?

BEARDSLEY: You know, afterwards, there could be. We've got the far left, the far right coming up against each other. Who knows - a lot of tension. We're gonna have the results, Scott, around 2 p.m. Eastern. That's 8 p.m. local time here in France.

SIMON: Eleanor Beardsley, thanks so much for being with us.

BEARDSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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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.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.