Key figures to know in the French election campaign

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France is the closest it has been to having a far-right government since World War Two, with the anti-immigrant National Rally (RN) riding high in opinion polls ahead of the first round of snap parliamentary elections on Sunday.

President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament and called the election after his centrist Together alliance was trounced by the RN in European elections.

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Macron will remain president after the parliamentary election, the second round of which is on July 7. But he will have to pick a prime minister from the party or alliance with the most seats in the National Assembly, regardless of how divergent their policies are from his own.

Here are some of the key party figureheads in the campaign:

Jordan Bardella, far-right National Rally party

The sharp-suited Bardella, 28, has Italian roots. He was raised by his mother in social housing in the hardscrabble northern outskirts of Paris but attended a semi-private Catholic school.

His working class background has become a selling point. “I’m in politics for everything I lived through back there,” he told newspaper Le Monde.

Bardella joined Marine Le Pen’s far-right party aged 16. Seven years later, Le Pen picked him to lead her party’s charge in the 2019 European elections. Members elected him party president in November 2022.

The battle-hardened Le Pen and youthful, sharp-witted Bardella have formed a formidable political tag team.

Bardella has used his TikTok account, which has 1.7 million followers, to attract younger, social media-savvy voters.

The pair have broadened the party’s appeal beyond its historic redoubts of the Mediterranean coast and the northern rust belt, pitching it as a defender of family incomes, jobs and French identity.

Bardella casts himself as a potential “prime minister for purchasing power,” pledging to cut VAT on power and fuel and scrap income tax for the under-30s. His opponents say he lacks professional experience, having gone into politics at a young age, and that his economic plans are unrealistic.

Gabriel Attal, centrist ‘Together’ alliance

At 35, Gabriel Attal became France’s youngest post-war prime minister when Macron appointed him in January.

Sometimes dubbed “baby Macron,” Attal faces the daunting task of saving his boss’s presidency and political movement.

Disaffected voters nationwide are shifting support to the far-right and a new left-wing alliance in anger at Macron’s policies and personality, with the president often perceived as arrogant and disconnected from daily hardships.

Attal’s political rise has been meteoric under Macron. Having joined the Socialist Party aged 17, he became a household name in French politics after being named government spokesman during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attal went on to serve as budget minister and spent a few months at the helm of the education ministry before Macron made him head of government in an attempt to fend off the far-right.

Attal’s first move as education minister in 2023 was to ban the Muslim abaya in state schools, earning himself a popularity boost among conservative voters despite hailing from the left.

Left-wing figures

There is no single obvious contender to be prime minister on the left, where a wide range of parties have formed a New Popular Front (NFP) in an attempt to join forces against the RN.

The NFP has not said who would be its pick for prime minister.

The following are some of its best-known figures:

Jean-luc Melenchon, hard-left France Unbowed party

Melenchon, 72, has been a fixture in French left-wing politics for decades and held ministerial posts in past governments, when he was a member of the Socialist Party.

He ran for president in 2012, 2017 and 2022, improving his score each time. He came third in 2022, just behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Macron won that election.

A fiery orator, Melenchon is one of the most divisive figures in French politics, enthusing and horrifying voters with his unbridled tax-and-spend proposals, class war rhetoric and controversial foreign policy positions, especially on Gaza. Critics accuse him of antisemitism, which he denies.

Raphael Glucksmann, Socialist party

Glucksmann, 44, headed the Socialist list of candidates in the European elections this month. It obtained nearly 14 percent of the vote, just behind Macron’s Together group. This was considered a sign of revival for a party that governed France in past decades but had recently fallen into electoral oblivion.

The son of a philosopher, Glucksmann attended prestigious schools and had a career in journalism and broadcasting before branching out in a variety of directions, including being an adviser to then Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili.

He advocates strong European support for Ukraine in its resistance against Russia’s invasion.

Laurent Berger, former CFDT trade union leader

Berger, 55, is a former head of one of France’s main trade unions, the moderate CFDT. He has a track record of strong opposition to the far-right RN.

Berger has said he does not want to be prime minister, but others on the left have put his name forward, saying he could be a unifying figure and a popular alternative to Melenchon.

Read more:

France’s high-stakes elections begin with far-right leading pre-election polls

Macron dissolves parliament, calls for snap legislative election amid EU poll blow

Tense France goes to polls as far-right scents power

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