French left closes in on parliamentary majority

Exit polls showed left-wing parties and their allies with 46.9% of the votes in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, while the conservative UMP garnered 34.6%, in a ballot marked by low voter turnout.


Left-wing parties inched toward a parliamentary majority on Sunday, after exit polls placed the Socialist Party and its allies ahead of the conservative UMP party in the first round of Sunday's elections.

The UMP garnered an estimated 34.6 percent of the vote compared to the Socialist Party's 34.4 percent, in a ballot marked by low voter turnout. However, the Socialists' numbers combined with other left-wing parties secured the left an overall 46.9 percent of votes, according to estimates by the polling firm Ipsos.

French National Assembly Seat Projections

The second round of the election, to be held on June 17, is expected to confirm the leftward trend in France, which saw François Hollande win the country’s presidential elections on May 6.

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.

The first estimates dispelled notions of an overwhelming victory, or so-called “pink surge”, for Aubry and Hollande’s camp. The Socialist Party needs to win 289 seats of the 577-seat chamber to enjoy an absolute majority.

Results suggested Socialists may have to turn to allies in the Green Party and lawmakers from far-left parties in order to secure a majority in the lower-house National Assembly.

Projections showed the Socialists on pace to take between 275 and 305 seats, while the UMP was tipped to send between 205 and 235 members to parliament.

While the Socialist Party was expected to extend its advantage in the National Assembly with an additional 35 to 51 allied lawmakers, such an alliance would give the communist-allied Left Front and the Green Party greater leverage to shape policy.

"The game is not over yet", said UMP party chief Jean-Francois Copé, who estimates showed was heading to a runoff against Green candidate Caroline Pinet in the Meaux department east of Paris, and who encouraged his party’s sympathisers to vote en masse in the second round.

Awaiting results from key battles

Exit polls began to give voters an idea of the key match-ups in the second round, even if all the official results were not expected before Monday. Many prominent French politicians were running as MP candidates and election night delivered a few surprises.

The UMP’s Copé claimed 45 percent of votes and escaped a dangerous three-way runoff that would have pitted him against an FN candidate. He is now expected to beat the Green's Pinet, who earned 29 percent support.
Ségolene Royal, the Socialist Party’s unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2007 and Hollande’s former partner, finished first in western city of La Rochelle with 32 percent of votes, bettering a rival from her own party, Olivier Falorni, who also advanced to the second round.

The far-right’s Marine Le Pen topped the ballot in the highly publicised election in the northern city of Hénin-Beaumont. While many expected a close duel between Le Pen and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, she claimed over 40 percent of votes and was heading to a runoff with Socialist Party candidate Philippe Kemel.

Former UMP prime minister François Fillon – one of the conservative leaders tipped to take over the party after Sarkozy’s election defeat – got more than 40 percent of votes in Paris’ upscale second constituency, but did not avoid a runoff.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who has posted high approval ratings as France’s new PM, is sure to keep his MP seat after claiming more than 56 percent of votes in his western stronghold of Nantes.
Centrist figurehead François Bayrou is fighting for his political life in the southwestern city of Pau. He will be in a three-way runoff against a Socialist Party and UMP candidate on his home turf.

“The results are difficult and announce a close second round. The reason for the results are clear. A large part of my supporters did not understand my decision to vote for François Hollande in the presidential elections", said Bayrou, whose MoDem party will struggle to send representatives to the National Assembly.

According to Ipsos, the far-right National Front Party came in third overall with 13.7 percent of votes. The Left Front coalition won 6.8 percent, while the Greens took 5.7 percent of ballots. Centrists, as well as other far-right and far-left parties, failed to clear 2 percent.

The UMP was fighting to avoid a shameful double-defeat, after former president Nicolas Sarkozy lost the presidential runoff last month. It seemed increasingly difficult for the conservative party to win enough constituencies to force Hollande into a cohabitation, or coalition government.

Low turnout hurts far-right hopes

Ipsos put the abstention rate for the poll at 42.9 percent, a record high for legislative elections in France.

According to the ministry of the interior, voter participation had reached 48.31 percent by 5pm. That figure was down slightly from the previous parliamentary election in 2007, in which voter participation was at 49.28 at the same time.

The French pollster said the second round would likely see 57 runoffs between three opposing candidates.

After claiming an all-time high in the presidential elections, the far-right FN was banking on  sending members to the National Assembly. Yet in order to advance to the second round, parliamentary candidates must earn at least 12.5 percent of all eligible voters. 

Despite garnering more than 13 percent of votes on Sunday, the low voter participation rate means that the FN has few chances to advance to the June 17 runoffs. The party could once again see itself excluded from parliament, with projections showing between 0 and 2 seats for them in parliament.

Despite Le Pen’s claims that the poll “confirmed the FN’s position as France’s third political force,” her party could once again see itself excluded from parliament, with projections showing a maximum of 2 seats for them in the National Assembly.


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