‘Extremely unsettling’: Fears for the Paris Olympic Games in the wake of France’s snap election

The world’s attention will be on Paris in a few weeks as the Olympics kick off with an unprecedented opening ceremony that will include a flotilla of barges transporting athletes down the famous Seine River.

But the spirit of positivity and unity underpinning the Games is now under threat after French President Emmanuel Macron called a surprise snap election just weeks before.

There are now concerns about everything from national security to transport infrastructure, with the outcome of the parliamentary vote looking shaky and unlikely to deliver a clear majority.

That raises the risk of civil unrest at a time when Paris hopes its 2.1 million residents will come together to welcome the world to their city.

Mr Macron dissolved parliament on Sunday, immediately after a resounding victory for far-right candidates in European Parliament elections.

France’s ultraconservative National Unity party swept to victory, taking 31 percent of the vote – more than double Macron’s centrist alliance.

“I have heard your message and I will not let it go unanswered,” Macron said in a televised address.

“France needs a clear majority in tranquility and harmony.”

Mr Macron said he would not countenance far-right advances “all over the continent”. The country now heads to the polls in two rounds, on June 30 and July 7. The Paris Games begin on July 26.

Paris Mayor Anna Hidalgo said it was “difficult to understand” why the president decided to call early elections just weeks before the Olympics.

“Like a lot of people, I was stunned,” Ms Hidalgo said on Monday.

“Disbanding right before the Games is really something very exciting.”

The impact of the election is unclear

There are concerns that a change in government – ​​or worse, an unclear result – could leave key services such as transport and homeland security unchecked.

“The vote could lead to political instability in the event of another hung parliament in which no party gets a majority, or a seismic shift if Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Union becomes the largest party nationally,” reports France24.

Any civil unrest over the results could put the French capital in a negative light as Olympians and fans arrive from around the world.

Violent riots erupted across the country last year after police shot dead a French-Algerian teenager in a residential area on the outskirts of Paris.

At the height of the unrest, hundreds of tactical officers swarmed the popular tourist strip on the Champs-Élysées in central Paris as angry mobs gathered.

David Roizen of the Jean Jaures Foundation told AFP that new unrest surrounding the election could threaten the positive and united spirit of the Olympics.

“The risk is that the positive dynamic will end, meaning that people will only talk about the Olympics in terms of security,” Mr Roizen said.

There are already concerns over security arrangements for the opening ceremony, which will take place on open-air boats on the River Seine.

Some unions also threatened a strike during the games, which could plunge the city into chaos.

But Paris 2024 boss Tony Estanguet said his team was “more determined than ever” to make the Games a resounding success.

“Since we started running for the Olympics, there have been about 10 elections and we have understood how to work with public actors,” said Mr. Estanguet.

And International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach denied the election would affect the Games.

“France is used to holding elections – they will do it again,” Bach said. “A new government will come in and everyone will support the Olympics.”

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra could be out of a job until the opening ceremony, but she said politicians must unite behind the Games.

“We’ve been waiting a century for these games,” said Oudéa-Castéra.

“It is crucial that our country takes care of its image and the message it sends to the world at a time when it welcomes athletes from all over the world.”

Macron’s mega political gamble

Macron’s announcement came as a dramatic surprise to political pundits across France and Europe.

There are only two years left in his second term as president. His party does not have a majority in parliament and governs as part of an alliance.

The risk of a vote of no confidence after the vote in the European Parliament was high.

National Assembly leader Marine Le Pen said the party was “ready to take power if the French trust us”.

“We are ready to exercise power, to end mass migration, to prioritize purchasing power, ready for France to come alive again,” Le Pen told a crowd of supporters in Paris.

The party’s platform includes holding a referendum on cracking down on immigration, banning headscarves in public, revoking birthright citizenship and revoking permanent residence permits from migrants who are unemployed.

She also pledged to abolish income tax for French workers under 30 and increase pensions and allow early retirement at 60 for those who have worked for 40 years.

A political poll conducted on Monday showed that National Rally would win between 235 and 265 seats in parliament, up from the current 88 seats.

This would make it less than the number needed for an absolute majority – 289.

A poll by Toluna Harris Interactive for Challenges, M6 and RTL found that Macron’s centrist alliance will halve the number of seats from the current 250 to 125 to 155.

“We are still in shock,” Emmanuel Pellerin, a member of Macron’s Renaissance party, told Reuters.

“Everything indicates that RN will get a relative or absolute majority. But it forces the French to consider what is at stake.

Regardless of the outcome, Mr Macron will remain president for another three years as presidential elections are held separately.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Macron wrote the morning after his bombshell announcement: “I am confident in the ability of the French to make the fairest choice for themselves and for future generations. My only ambition is to be useful to our country, which I love so much.”

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