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French parliamentary elections confirm shift to the left

By Scott Denton - posted Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Newly elected French President Socialist Francois Hollande, who defeated NicolasSarkozy in last month's presidential election, is seeking to strengthen his presidential mandate for economic rebuilding in the first round of parliamentary elections held on Sunday. Early results indicate the Socialists are likely to secure at least 283 seats in the 577 seat National Assembly. Socialists and aligned leftists are leading in 70 of 116 districts where the first-round count has been completed.

Candidates who win more than 50 per cent of registered voters win the seat outright, however most ballots go to a runoff, involving any candidate who secures more than 12.5 per cent in the first round.The second round is decided on the first-past-the-post system election. More than 6500 candidates were competing in the French vote, which takes place under a constituency-based simple majority system.The left-wing parties have an understanding that if two leftists qualify, only the best-placed candidate stays in the race: a strategy that will aid Hollande's chance of a parliamentary majority. The second round of the election, to be held on June 17, is expected to confirm the leftward trend in France. The vote is considered a "symbolic advance for the left" after the left took control of the Senate in 2011 and won the presidency in May for the first time since 1988.

Should Hollande's Socialist secure 329 seats they can hold power without the Greens or the Communist-inspired Left Front. Strong results in next week's second round of parliamentary voting will consolidate the French turn to the left and away from the German-led fixation on austerity. Hollande, and his Socialist candidates have consistently campaigned on government investment to stimulate growth.


President Hollande campaigned during the parliamentary elections for French voters to give him a "clear and coherent" parliamentary majority, if not on his own, with the Greens. His aim was to avoid a relying on parliamentary support from Communists and other hard-left candidates running under the Left Front banner of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The first round of parliamentary votes signal the end of conservative control of the national assembly held together by Sarkozy since 2002. Sarkozy's party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), who has rejected an alliance with the extreme-right National Front, may result in the UMP having its smallest presence in the national parliament in more than 25 years. With Hollande's Socialist likely to win between 43 and 48 per cent of the parliamentary vote, UMP candidates will likely secure about 34 per cent of the parliamentary vote.

The National Front (NF) is likely to see only three members of parliament, with the Party doing less well than predicted, securing only 13 per cent of the nationwide vote. However this was far above the 4.0 per cent it got in the last parliamentary election in 2007.NF leader, Marine Le Pen has claimed victory but will faces a tough runoff against the Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former presidential candidate.

Mélenchon intentionally chose to contest the parliamentary seat in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont saying: "There will be a Homeric battle of sorts with extremely powerful symbolism, since [Henin-Beaumont] is the birthplace of France's labour movement as well as the place where Le Pen, with her bravado, has decided to set up shop." Le Pen's strong third-place showing in the presidential race was built on a campaign of undoing the Euro currency, reducing immigration, protecting "Frenchness" and fighting what she calls Islamisation.

Sarkozy'sUMP presidential defeat was blamed on running a regard action against Hollande's Socialists and because of the sense of an alliance between UMP and the National Front. A similar problem has beset the UMP at the parliamentary elections.

Voter turnout was low at around 57 per cent, compared to 63 per cent who voted in the last parliamentary election five years ago. Abstention in legislative elections have soared since France synchronised the presidential and parliamentary terms a decade ago, hitting 40 percent in 2007. Opinion polls had indicated that 40 per cent of election-weary French voters might not bother to cast their ballot in either round of the parliamentary elections.

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About the Author

Scott completed a PhD on Australian electoral politics in 2010. He is an academic at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He regularly writes on Australian and American elections and electoral history.

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