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How polls have reshaped the political landscape in France, Iran, UK

France has thrown up a hung Parliament just ahead of the Paris Olympics, while Labour has stormed back to power in the UK after 14 years, and the Iranians have chosen a reformist who wants a nuclear deal with the US

How polls have reshaped the political landscape in France, Iran, UK
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

This month, within a space of three days—between 5th and 7th July—elections in UK, Iran, and France have either replaced or emasculated the incumbent.

The election outcomes have reshaped the political landscape, with the UK’s Labour party storming back to power after 14 years, France throwing up a hung Parliament just ahead of the Paris Olympics, and the Iranians choosing a reformist who wants a nuclear deal with the US.

Let us take a look at the countries:

The United Kingdom

Former prime minister Rishi Sunak could have waited until January 2025 to hold elections. He calculated, or rather miscalculated, that his party would fare better now. He took the decision to hold elections without proper consultations within his own party.

Even Sunak would not have expected the landslide defeat his Conservative party sustained with 121 seats. The Labour, with 411 seats, gained in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.  The Liberal Democrats captured 72 seats, while the Reform Party, which was making its debut, got 5 seats.

The Westminster system of ‘first-past-the-post’ can produce strange results. The Labour, with a vote share of 33.7%, has 63.2% of seats, whereas the Conservatives, with a vote share of 23.7%, got only 18.6% of seats. The Reform UK got 0.8% of seats, with a vote share of 14.3%.

Incidentally, in elections to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, the system of ‘proportional representation’ is used. If that system were to be applied to the House of Commons, the Labour would have got just 236 seats, less than a majority. The Conservatives would have got 157.

What is notable about the UK election is that no electronic voting machine was used. The results were declared within 20 hours of polling commencing, and outgoing prime minister Sunak congratulated the incoming Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer.

It has been suggested that by electing Labour, the UK has diverged from the European trend of strengthening rightist parties, as seen in Italy, the Netherlands, and Finland. However, this is a misconception; under Starmer, the Labour party is not leftist.

Tony Blair, who led Labour to a significant victory in 1997, severed ties with the trade unions. In my review of his memoir, A Journey, for the Frontline, I referred to him as “Tory Blair.”

No major shifts are expected in the UK’s foreign and defense policies regarding Ukraine and NATO. The special relationship with Washington will persist. Though Starmer has ruled out rejoining the European Union, he advocates for increased engagement, recognizing the economic damage caused by Brexit.

Relations between India and the UK look set to improve, with a trade agreement likely on the horizon. The new government is also expected to adopt more sensible policies concerning visas and residence permits.


When former Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash in May, some Western pundits expressed serious doubts about Iran’s ability to conduct elections. Instead, they expected chaos. Refuting the pessimists, elections were held as announced, and in the second round—as none of the four contenders got 50% votes—Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon who has already served as a minister of health, won.

Pezeshkian was the only reformist, while the other three contenders were hardline conservatives. Initially, more than 70 candidates, including women, were in fray. But Iran’s Guardian Council, taking orders from Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, permitted only four to contest.

Some Western pundits have assessed that the reformist president-elect will fail to deliver as the ultimate decision-maker is the Ayatollah. On foreign policy and defense, the Ayatollah gets inputs from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that does not report to the President.

That assessment may be too simplistic. Ali Khamenei, 85, wants to retire, mainly due to health concerns and his legacy. He is deeply distressed by the regime’s rapidly eroding legitimacy, especially after Mahsa Amini, 22, died in custody in September 2022 after appearing in public without hijab.

Young Iranians, making up about 70% of the population, expressed their disapproval by abstaining from voting and, in 2022, Raisi was elected with a 40% turnout.

This year, too, the turnout was 40% in the first round. The voting percentage went up by 10% in the second round when the youth felt that there was reason to hope that Pezeshkian might deliver.

It is reasonable to hope that the Ayatollah, in his own interest, might grant the president more autonomy. The president faces two primary challenges: one is to revive an economy battered by 40% annual inflation due to US and European sanctions, and rampant corruption. The other is to relax or do away with strict rules on internet access and women’s attire.

Coming to the sanctions, even if Tehran is open to a give-and-take negotiation, an embattled US President Joe Biden, fighting for his political survival, might not respond.

There’s also an elephant in the room: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If Netanyahu escalates the conflict with Hezbollah, Tehran will back Hezbollah, diminishing the prospects for reviving the nuclear deal.


French President Emmanuel Macron has reminded us that politics is the realm where unintended consequences are to be expected.

Enraged by the success of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN)—French for National Rally—in the recent European Parliament elections at his party’s expense, Macron advanced the national Parliament elections, hoping to get “clarity”—meaning more seats for his party that lacked a majority—and, even more importantly, to see the RN lose its expanding support base.

The headlines seem rather misleading. The RN, with 126 seats, is the single largest party. In the last elections in 2022, RN had 89 seats.

Macron and the Left (New Popular Front), who do not see eye to eye on policy, got together and supported each other in the second round to deny the RN a majority.

That strategy did work out, but now there is a hung parliament, and France is entering a phase of political instability, potentially rendering Macron a lame-duck president till his term ends in 2027.

Le Pen will now be busy preparing for the presidential election in 2027.

With Macron’s effectiveness diminished, the EU will be in trouble, and Ukraine will see its keenest supporter, which backed sending NATO troops to the front lines with Russia, significantly weakened.

France has not had a coalition tradition. The Constitution does not permit another parliamentary election for one year. Macron’s centrist party and the Left (NPF) will find it difficult, if not impossible, to form a coalition as water and fire cannot be mixed.

Finally, a word on the US elections.

America has a democratic way of choosing presidential candidates. Is there a real choice between Donald Trump and Biden? Hardly.

But the patently undemocratic Iranian system gave a choice between a reformist and a hardliner to the Iranian voters, who chose the reformist.


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

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