*** ----> French voters turn out en masse as far right eyes huge gains | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

French voters turn out en masse as far right eyes huge gains

AFP| Paris

The Daily Tribune - www.newsofbahrain.com

French voters turned out in large numbers yesterday for the final round of a highstakes election that is expected to leave the far right as the biggest force in a deeply divided parliament. By 5:00 pm (1500 GMT), according to interior ministry figures, some 61.4 percent of voters had turned out -- the most at this stage of a legislative race since 1981, with three hours of polling to go.

President Emmanuel Macron called the snap elections three years ahead of time after his forces were trounced in June’s European parliament vote, a gamble which seems to have backfired.

The mood in France is tense, with 30,000 police deployed to head off trouble and voters anxious about a potential electoral earthquake shifting the political landscape. In the village of Rosheim, outside the eastern city of Strasbourg, an “anguished” 72-year-old Antoine Schrameck said he feared France would see “a turning point in the history of the republic”.

And in Tourcoing, near the northeast city of Lille, 66-year-old retiree Laurence Abbad said she feared violence after the results are announced.

“There’s so much tension, people are going mad,” she said.

The president was to assemble Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the leaders of the parties in his out-going centrist coalition at the Elysee Palace while voting continued, sources in his camp said.

Russian invasion

Far right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) came top in the June 30 first round, and is on course to repeat the feat in yesterday’s run off races.

But she may not win the outright majority that would force Macron to appoint Le Pen’s lieutenant, the RN party leader Jordan Bardella, 28, as prime minister just weeks before Paris hosts the Olympics.

A hung parliament with a large eurosceptic, anti-immigration contingent could weaken France’s inter-national standing and threaten Western unity in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

European Union officials, already learning to deal with farright parties in power in Italy and the Neth-erlands, are watching France closely.

And in Rome, Pope Francis chose the day of the French vote to warn against “ideological temptations and populists”, adding: “Democracy is not in good health in the world today.”

With the country on tenterhooks, last week saw more than 200 tactical-voting pacts between centre and left wing candidates in seats to attempt to prevent the RN winning an absolute majority.

This has been hailed as a return of the anti-far right “Republican Front” first summoned when Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie faced Jacques Chirac in the run-off of 2002 presidential elections.

Opinion polls now forecast that the RN will fall well short of the 289 seats needed for an outright ma-jority in the 577-seat National Assembly, while still becoming the largest party