Record abstention clouds French parliamentary poll
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Socialists hope to hand President François Hollande a strong mandate to rule by securing a majority of seats in a parliamentary run-off marred by record-low voter turnout.
French voters headed to the polls on Sunday to elect new parliament members in a second-round ballot that seemed to be heading for a record-low voter participation.
The Socialist Party hoped to cap off its victory in last month’s presidential poll by securing a majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, which the conservative UMP party has controlled since 2002.
Participation in the second round of France's parliamentary elections was at 46.16% at 5pm, 2% down from the first round of voting one week ago, according to France's Interior Ministry.
The first round on June 10 saw the Socialist bloc take a small lead, claiming 29.35 percent of the vote to the UMP’s 27.13 percent.
Polling stations were due to close by 8pm in the country’s largest cities.
According to the Interior Ministry, 46.42 percent of all eligible voters had cast a ballot by 5pm local time, down a further 2 percent from last week's record-low turnout.
A strong mandate for Hollande
The Socialists and their left-wing allies, which include the Greens and the communist-allied Left Front, have been riding a wave of support since the May 6 second round of the presidential election, in which Hollande defeated the incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
With the Senate already controlled by the left, an absolute majority for the Socialists in the National Assembly would hand Hollande the parliamentary backing he needs to pass promised reforms.
Hollande has said he would raise taxes for France’s highest earners in order to reverse cuts in public spending, with additional expenditures pledged for the state school system, among other sectors.
Hollande is also championing new spending on the European level as a way out of the continent’s near-negative economic growth – a position that puts him at odds with Germany’s strict austerity bent.
The vote was a critical test for the far-right National Front (FN) party, which was poised to return to parliament for the first time since 1998.
FN leader Marine Le Pen, who has been credited for renewing the party’s image, faced a tough election battle in the northern constituency of Hénin-Beaumont. While she finished ahead in the first round, all the other candidates rallied behind her Socialist Party rival.
The fate of the FN was also expected to help shape the future direction of the centre-right UMP. While some UMP leaders and voters have favoured electoral alliances with the far right, such an entente is still banned by the party’s national leadership.
The fate of centrist figurehead François Bayrou and his MoDem party also hung in the balance. Bayrou was facing a difficult three-way runoff in his southwest constituency of Bearn, and the MoDem could fail to send any members to parliament this spring.
Few if any surprises were expected for Socialist Party candidates, but there was intense focus on the western city of La Rochelle, where Socialist heavyweight Ségolene Royal was tipped to lose against a party dissident.
Royal, who lost the 2007 presidential election against Sarkozy and failed in her bid to become party chief in 2008, was embarrassed between the two rounds by first lady Valérie Trierweiler’s decision to endorse her rival.