What happened in the French elections? Five key points to remember.

France's left-wing parties made an unexpected gain in Sunday's national legislative elections, denying the nationalist, anti-immigration Rassemblement National party a majority in the lower house of parliament.

But official results showed that no party or bloc had won an outright majority, leaving one of Europe's largest countries on the brink of political impasse or instability.

Here are five food for thought from this election.

There were two major surprises when France voted for a new parliament in early elections, neither of which had been predicted by pundits, pollsters or forecasters.

The biggest was the triumph of the New Popular Front, a coalition of left-wing parties that is now the dominant force in a bloc of about 190 lawmakers and has emerged as the largest political group in the lower house.

It was the most stunning victory for the French left since François Mitterrand brought it back from its post-war wilderness by winning the presidency as a Socialist in 1981.

President Emmanuel Macron, supported by most French commentators, has spent the last seven years proclaiming the left, and especially the Socialists, dead, and its more radical fringes like France Unbowed as dangerous troublemakers. Both won big on Sunday.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, founder of France Unbowed, which is expected to win about 75 seats, perhaps more than a dozen more than the Socialists, said Mr Macron now had a “duty” to nominate a prime minister from the left-wing coalition, the New Popular Front. He boldly said he would refuse to “enter into negotiations with the president.”

In Paris, a large and noisy crowd gathered to celebrate on Sunday evening in the predominantly working-class neighborhood around the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad.

The other two parties in the New Popular Front are the Greens, who are expected to get about 35 seats, and the Communists, who are expected to get about 10.

The other shocking development was the third-place finish of the National Rally and its allies, who were expected to win the most seats, if not an absolute majority, in the National Assembly, the most powerful lower house, which has 577 members.

The party was already preparing to govern alongside Macron in what is called cohabitation, when the prime minister and the president are on opposite political sides.

However, the National Rally and its allies won around 140 seats, more than at any other time in their history, a fact the party was quick to point out.

“The tide is rising,” Marine Le Pen, the party’s longtime leader and perennial presidential candidate, told reporters Sunday. “It hasn’t risen enough this time, but it’s still rising. And as a result, our victory is actually just delayed.”

But the fundamental shift predicted before Sunday – that France would become a far-right country – has not occurred.

And so, despite all the bragging rights of Mrs. Le Pen, the National Rally's election party was a sad one.

It is still too early to say how voting patterns changed between the two rounds of voting and how the New Popular Front achieved its surprising victory. But strategies aimed at preventing the far right from winning by forming a “republican front” appear to have played an important role.

France’s left-wing parties and Mr Macron’s centrist coalition fielded more than 200 candidates from three-way races in constituencies where the far right had a chance of winning a seat. Many voters who loathed the far right then voted for whoever was left, even if the candidate was hardly their first choice.

“I would never have voted for France Unbowed under normal circumstances,” said Hélène Leguillon, 43, after casting her vote at Le Mans. “We are forced to make a choice that we would not have made otherwise to block the National Rally.”

The far right argued that the tactic was unfair and deprived its voters of their voice.

“Depriving millions of French people of the opportunity to see their ideas brought to power will never be a viable path for France,” Jordan Bardella, president of the Rassemblement National, told supporters in a speech, accusing Macron and the left of making “dangerous electoral deals.”

Official turnout figures for the final round were not immediately available Sunday night, but pollsters predicted it would be about 67 percent, much higher than in 2022, when France last held its legislative elections. That year, only about 46 percent of registered voters cast ballots for the second round.

Sunday's turnout was the highest since 1997, demonstrating the great interest in a race with much higher stakes than usual.

French legislative elections are usually held just a few weeks after the presidential race and usually favor the party that wins the presidency. This makes legislative votes less likely to appeal to voters, many of whom believe the outcome is predetermined.

This time, however, voters believed that their vote could radically change the course of Macron's presidency, and it seems they were right.

With no party having an absolute majority and the lower house of parliament about to be filled by factions that loathe each other, it is unclear exactly how and by whom France will be governed.

Mr Macron must appoint a prime minister capable of forming a government that the new lawmakers in the National Assembly cannot overthrow with a vote of no confidence.

There is still no clear picture of who this might be, and none of the three main blocs, which also have their own internal disagreements, seem ready to cooperate with the others.

“French political culture is not conducive to compromise,” said Samy Benzina, a professor of public law at the University of Poitiers.

Mr Mélenchon is disliked by many in the Socialist Party (and even by some within his own party, who resent his influence even though he is no longer its official leader); Mr Macron's Renaissance party includes members who resent the president for calling early elections; and most lawmakers who are not members of the National Rally loathe him.

Mr Macron himself is a powerful generator of anger, as he has repeatedly demonstrated during his seven years as president, although he has already ruled out resigning. The latest poll by the polling institute Ifop, conducted after his decision to call early elections but before the vote itself, earned him an approval rating of just 26 percent.

Where will the next French prime minister come from? What legislative influence will Mr Macron still have? Can he continue to preside if the lower house is ungovernable?

Stay tuned.

Segolene Le Stradic contributed reporting from Le Mans, France.

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