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Voters ready for 1st round of French parliament elections
By JOSEPH STRICH
09/06/2012
Socialists, led by new PM, hope for absolute majority.
 
The first round of the elections for the French National Assembly will be held on Sunday, 34 days after François Hollande won the final round of the presidential elections.

The second round of the legislative vote will be held next Sunday, including for Israeli-French dual citizens and other eligible voters living outside French territory.

“The present favored status does not necessarily continue, neither for the president nor for the prime minister,” political commentator Dominique Reynie told the newsweekly Le Point.

All the polls predict a victory for the Socialists lead by the new Prime Minister Jan-Marc Ayrault, with 44.5 percent of the votes, against 34.5% for the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, now lead by its chairman Jean- François Cope (who describes himself as “a non-practicing Jew”) and former prime minister François Fillon.

Both Cope and Fillon want to take control of the party and a “war between chiefs” for the leadership of the opposition is expected to start between them immediately after these elections.

In the meantime, Cope has said that the UMP wants “as many deputes as possible” to prevent the Left from getting the 3/5 of the seats in the National Assembly and the Senate required to pass controversial constitutional reforms such as giving foreigners the right to vote in local elections.

Another nightmare scenario for the UMP: A three-way split in the second round between the UMP, the Socialist Party and the far-right National Front.

There would then be a possibility of an alliance between the UMP and the National Front; this is unlikely, however, since for a candidate to participate in the second round requires that he win at least 12.5% of the votes of all registered voters in the first round, or about 20% of those voting in the district. This will be not easy to achieve for the Rassemblement Bleu- Marine (“the Marine Blue Gathering”), the name being used by the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, for an alliance that includes about 8% non- National Front members among its legislative candidates.

The main aim of the National Front in these elections is to equal its best-ever results of 17.9% of the popular vote achieved in the first round of the presidential election, and not to fall back as happened in both 2002 and 2007. It also wants to disrupt the UMP’s support with the strategic objective of causing a realignment of the French right wing.

As for the Socialists, the million-dollar question must be: Will they win an absolute majority in the National Assembly? They would need to win 289 seats of the 577 available, but in a coalition agreement signed in last November they have already earmarked 63 districts for the Greens. Twenty of these promised seats are thought to be winnable.

Should the Socialists fail to get an absolute majority, the party of Hollande and Ayrault will have to negotiate every policy with the extreme Left, the Left Party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which will be trying to increase its representation from 19 to 30.

Bills to raise taxes on the rich and reverse a rise in sales tax should be backed by the hard Left, but a too-narrow majority would leave Hollande dependent on conservatives and centrists for possible measures on closer European integration.

Paris is coming under pressure to agree to allow EU institutions more control over public finances, as Berlin proposes steps toward fiscal union as its condition for considering mutualized debt or an integrated bank sector to help solve the euro zone crisis.

Mélenchon himself could be beaten in the Pas de Calais, where he is facing off against Le Pen in the small town of Henin- Baumont. According to a poll taken for the newspaper Le Figaro and the LCI TV station, by the Opinion Way Institute, Le Pen is going to beat the representative of the communists by 32% to 24%, while the Socialist Party of Hollande will get 25% in the district.

The centrist Democratic Movement is in trouble, and is desperately trying to at least save the seat of its leader, François Bayrou, with its votes being squeezed from both Left and Right.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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