Chirac faces losing control of Senate

24th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac's ruling UMP party risks losing its outright majority in the upper house of parliament, the Senate, when a third of its seats are renewed in elections Sunday.

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac's ruling UMP party risks losing its outright majority in the upper house of parliament, the Senate, when a third of its seats are renewed in elections Sunday.  

Candidates for the Union for a Popular Movement face a strong challenge from dissident centre-right lists in a number of constituencies, and party managers have warned that about ten of its seats are in danger.  

Heavy losses would be seized on by the left-wing opposition as the government's third defeat after regional and European elections earlier this year, and a sign that it has lost the confidence of the public.  

However any setback would be relative, as the Senate has an in-built conservative bias.   Currently the UMP has 162 seats in the 321-member body -- a majority of one. If it loses seats it will be forced to share power with a centrist bloc led by the Union for French Democracy (UDF) which is looking to make gains.  

The opposition Socialists hope to win five or six new seats, but have no chance of gaining control of the chamber because the electoral system works against them.   Senators are chosen by an electoral college consisting of some 150,000 regional, departmental and municipal councillors as well as the 577 members of the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly.

Over-representation of conservative rural areas means an in-built leaning to the right.   The Senate's function is to vet legislation -- though it can ultimately be over-ruled by the National Assembly -- and to scrutinise government action. Senators normally hold other positions in local government and are expected to represent their region's interests in Paris.  

Under the 1958 constitution the president of the Senate is the country's second ranking figure and takes over from the president if he is incapacitated or dies. The current tenant Christian Poncelet, 76, is hoping for a third term but could face a challenge after Sunday's vote.  

Five government ministers -- including Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Education Minister Francois Fillon -- are running for Senate seats, which they will surrender to substitutes if they win.   

Much focus Sunday will be on the Hauts-de-Seine department west of Paris where the 77-year-old former interior minister and veteran Gaullist Charles Pasqua is standing for a seat.  

Pasqua is the object of a number of judicial investigations into illegal party financing and since losing a seat in the European parliament in June no longer enjoys parliamentary immunity.  

Sunday's election is for 127 Senate seats, the others being renewed at three year intervals. Under a 2003 law, members are elected for six years instead of nine, and the number of seats is being increased to 331.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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