French Socialists poised for parliamentary triumph
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French President François Hollande’s Socialist Party and its left-wing allies look set to win a majority in the lower house following Sunday's first-round parliamentary poll.
Left-wing parties inched towards a majority in the French lower house in Sunday’s first round of parliamentary elections, putting French President François Hollande on track to push through his anti-austerity, tax-and-spend reforms.
More than a month after Nicolas Sarkozy lost the May 6 presidential election, his conservative UMP party got 27 percent of the vote, two notches below the ruling Socialist Party’s 29 percent, according to final interior ministry results.
But along with their Green and left-wing allies, the Socialists won around 46 percent, well ahead of the 34 percent for the UMP and its conservative allies.
Voter turnout in Sunday’s elections was 57 percent, a record low for a French parliamentary election.
The second round of the election, to be held on June 17, is expected to hand Hollande and his allies a majority of seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. Left-wing parties are already in the majority in the French Senate.
Speaking on France 2 television, Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry said French voters had “expressed their support for change” and their “wish to amplify” Hollande’s victory.
Even as left-wing parties knuckled down to campaigning Monday for the June 17 runoff, France’s leftward slide seemed inevitable, with pollsters estimating that the Socialists and its allies could win the 289 seats needed to enjoy an absolute majority in the National Assembly.
But analysts have cautioned that it is hard to accurately predict the final tallies in the second round, especially since voters face a three-way runoff in many constituencies.
"The game is not over yet," said UMP party chief Jean-Francois Copé, who escaped a dangerous three-way runoff that would have pitted him against a far right National Front candidate. The UMP boss now faces Green candidate Caroline Pinet in the Meaux department, east of Paris.
Marine Le Pen ousts leftist arch-foe
Sunday’s elections saw a strong showing for the far-right party, the National Front, which won nearly 14 percent of the vote, a significant hike from the 4 percent it won in the 2007 parliamentary elections.
In one of the most interesting races in the first round, National Front chief Marine Le Pen took a commanding lead in the northern city of Hénin-Beaumont, trouncing her arch-foe, firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Mélenchon bowed out of the race Sunday night after Le Pen won 42 percent of the vote in the primarily working-class city that has long provided popular support for the National Front.
But while Le Pen’s victory was a symbolic win for her party, the 43-year-old daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen faces a tough fight in the runoff against Socialist candidate Philippe Kemel, who is expected to pick up the 21 percent of the vote Melenchon won on Sunday.
After claiming an all-time high in the presidential elections, the National Front had set its sights on sending its members to the National Assembly, where they have not had a representative since 1998.
Under French electoral law, parliamentary candidates must earn the support of at least 12.5 percent of all registered voters to qualify.
The low voter turnout in the first round has only increased the challenges confronting the National Front and the conservative UMP in advancing candidates for the June 17 vote.
Getting out the vote for the runoff
The results of the first round have put Hollande in a strong position for his generous tax-and-spend policies, opposed by German chancellor Angela Merkel, as the French president heads for a flurry of talks this week with eurozone leaders.
Chief of staff:
General Benoît Puga
On the presidential campaign trail, Hollande had promised that Socialist Party ministers who were not elected by their constituencies would lose their cabinet posts.
Following Sunday’s first round, most ministers were in comfortable positions, although the Socialists have been careful to focus their message on getting out the vote for the second round.
Hollande's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, re-elected in the first round voting in the Loire-Atlantique region, hailed Sunday’s results and urged voters to return to the polls in numbers for the second round to hand a "large, solid and coherent majority" for the Socialist party and its allies.
"Change is going to be around for a while," he said, echoing the Socialists' presidential election slogan.