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Battle begins for control of France's parliament

Campaigning for France's parliamentary elections officially begins Monday in what is expected to be a fierce battle between left and right. Without a majority in the lower house, President Hollande will struggle to deliver on his campaign promises.


The battle to take control of France’s National Assembly begins in earnest on Monday when the four week campaign period is officially launched.

The Socialist Party is hoping to follow up the presidential triumph of François Hollande by gaining a majority in France’s lower house when the elections take place over two rounds on June 10 and 17.

Despite predicted success, the Socialists want supporters to not waste the chance to give the country's first left-wing president in 17 years as firm a mandate as possible to push for reform in France. The party's campaign slogan is “Give a majority to change”.

Although poll numbers look good for the left in general, with a recent BVA opinion poll putting their share of the vote at 45.5 percent nationally, the Socialists’ quest for control of parliament could still be undermined.

Party chiefs have failed to reach an agreement with the far-left Left Front coalition, opening up the possibility that the Socialists could be pushed out of the second round vote in as many as 90 out of the 577 districts.

Without a majority, Hollande would struggle to pass reforms, such as the 75 percent tax rate on the super rich, which he promised during his presidential campaign.

“If we were to lose legislative elections, the vote for Hollande will have been good for nothing,” Socialist deputy finance minister Benoît Hamon recently told television channel France 3.

He said a right-wing government blocking Hollande’s suggested reforms would see France “fall into chaos”.

“Financial markets would attack the country,” Hamon warned.

Government changes

The elections could also have a massive impact on Hollande’s new government, which was announced amid much anticipation on May 17.

Out of the 34 members of the new Socialist government, as many as 26 are standing as candidates in the upcoming elections. In accordance with an unwritten rule, they will only be allowed to keep hold of their posts if they are successfully elected.

The most high-profile of those running for election is Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is nonetheless almost guaranteed to win his seat.

Other ministers facing what could be an anxious four weeks are party stalwart and new finance minister Pierre Moscovici and Health Minister Marisol Touraine. Several members of the younger generation of Socialists could also be in trouble, notably Culture Minister Aurélie Filipetti, 38. 

Women’s Rights Minister and government spokesperson Najat Vallaut Belkacem, 34, who has never succeeded in stealing away Lyon’s fourth district from the right, made a U-turn last week deciding not to run as she had planned.

UMP seeking 'co-habitation'

The conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party will be looking to make amends after the disappointment of seeing Nicolas Sarkozy lose his presidential reelection bid.

The UMP held 305 seats in the last parliament, and although polls suggest it will lose many of those, the party is hoping for a strong showing now that the unpopular Sarkozy is no longer an issue for voters.

Will take place on June 10 and 17, in a two-round vote. All 577 seats in the lower-house National Assembly are being contested. With 305 seats, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is currently the majority party in parliament. The UMP has led France’s most important legislative body for the past 10 years.

An ideal scenario for the UMP would see it winning enough seats to force Hollande into appointing a right-wing prime minister, a scenario known in France as "co-habitation".

The last period of "co-habitation" saw Jacques Chirac, a right-wing president, appoint Socialist Lionel Jospin as prime minister in 1997.

The performance of the far-right National Front, under candidate Marine Le Pen’s newly-branded Marine Blue United campaign, could determine whether the UMP returns as a major political force or, as many analysts suggest, will disappear as the dominant party of the right.

One of the mostly fiercely-contested seats will be in the northern French mining town of Hénin-Beaumont, where Left Front leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon announced he will face off against Le Pen.

The elections could prove a chastening experience for centrist party MoDem and its leader François Bayrou, who are still in the doldrums after their disappointing performance in the presidential elections. Bayrou is not even assured of being re-elected in his own seat in his southwest Pyrenées-Atlantiques riding.

In all, around 6,500 candidates, of which 40 percent are women, will fight for the National Assembly's 577 seats. Two of the more enigmatic names on the ballot sheets will be former weather man turned Radical Party candidate Patrice Drevet, and Céline Bara, the star of 180 porn films, who will contest a seat in the Ariège constituency of the Pyrenées.

The high turnout that saw over 80 percent of voters casting their ballot for the presidential election is not expected to be repeated. In 2007 around 40 percent of voters abstained.

Candidates must win at least 12.5 percent of the vote to qualify for the second ballot.

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