Hollande's Socialists secure majority in French parliament

French Socialists have won an absolute majority of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, giving President François Hollande a free hand to pass his promised growth-boosting measures.


Socialists took control of France’s parliament for the first time in ten years on Sunday in elections marked by high voter abstention.

The Socialist Party (PS) together with left-leaning independants won 314 seats in the lower-house National Assembly, compared to 191 seats for the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), giving President François Hollande’s party an absolute majority of the 577 parliamentary seats, exit polls showed.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault thanked voters for their “coherent choice” of a Socialist-led National Assembly in a televised speech broadcast as estimates were still trickling in. “Our parliamentary democracy will be restored,” said Ayrault, adding that the “voice of the opposition” would be heard.

The parliamentary election confirmed France's leftward swing, with the Ipsos polling agency suggesting the Greens had claimed 16 seats and the communist-allied Left Front a further 10.

The Socialist tally, combined with that of its left-wing allies, will give Hollande the backing he needs to implement promised reforms. The Senate is already controlled by the left.

Hollande has pledged to raise taxes for France’s highest earners in order to reverse cuts in public spending, with additional expenditures for the state school system, among other sectors.

Sunday's result marked a second stinging defeat for the UMP, just one month after former president Nicolas Sarkozy failed to secure a second term in office. The former president has faded from public view after his defeat, leaving a party torn by internal divisions.

UMP party chief Jean-François Copé, who won his own runoff in the city of Meaux near the French capital, recognised the left’s victory. Speaking at a press conference, Copé said his party would lead a “responsible but vigilant opposition” in the National Assembly, and warned party members against “personal quarrels”.

Ipsos said the abstention rate for the second-round ballot had gone over 44 percent, a new record for French parliamentary elections since the end of World War Two.

Foot in the door for far right

The National Front (FN) cried victory on Sunday night after 22-year-old candidate Marion Maréchal Le Pen, the granddaughter of the party’s founder and historic figurehead, Jean-Marie Le Pen, became the youngest-ever MP to serve in parliament.

Gilbert Collard, the FN’s lawyer and a candidate in the southern Gard department, also won a parliamentary seat for the anti-immigration party.

But there was disappointment for party leader Marine Le Pen, who lost her parliamentary contest in the northern Hénin-Beaumont constituency by a handful of votes.

“The national movement has once more entered the National Assembly, and its an enormous success,” Marine Le Pen told supporters in the northern town, a key battlefield that had dominated headlines during the campaign.

“Beyond my personal case, we have reasons to celebrate,” said Le Pen, who won the first round of the election one week ago and claimed 18 percent of votes nationwide in May’s presidential ballot.

Despite being the third-largest party in France, the FN had been excluded from France’s parliament since 1998.

Hopes dashed

Sunday’s parliamentary election punished some UMP members closely linked to Sarkozy’s former conservative government. Former interior minister Claude Guéant and former professional training junior minister Nadine Morano both lost their runoffs.

Michèle Alliot-Marie, a veteran UMP figure and one-time defence and foreign minister, lost her seat in the south-western Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. However, Sarkozy’s former campaign spokeswoman, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, and his last health minister, Xavier Bertrand, narrowly avoided the scalping.

The poll also dealt a blow to several prominent politicians outside the UMP. Ségolene Royal, the Socialist Party’s unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2007, lost in the western city of La Rochelle against a rebel candidate from her own party.

The defeat capped a miserable week for Royal, President Hollande’s former partner, after France’s new first lady Valérie Trierweiler controversially backed her rival on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

Jack Lang, a veteran Socialist political figure and former culture minister, lost in the eastern Vosges department.

Centrist figurehead François Bayrou was also ejected from his parliamentary seat in the south-western city of Pau. His once-important MoDem party looked like it would be reduced to just two members in France’s new parliament.

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