Sarkozy set for big mandate as French vote in new Assembly

17th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 17, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy looked set to win a sweeping mandate for his ambitious programme of reforms Sunday, as French voters went back to the polls to elect a new National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament.

PARIS, June 17, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy looked set to win a sweeping mandate for his ambitious programme of reforms Sunday, as French voters went back to the polls to elect a new National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament.

In the second round of legislative elections, some 35 million registered voters are choosing deputies in the 467 constituencies where there was no winner in the first round a week ago.

Opinions polls are unanimous in predicting Sarkozy's centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) a big victory over the Socialist Party, and the only doubt is likely to be over the extent of its majority in the new Assembly.

Both parties urged voters to turn out in force in order to bring down the record abstention rate -- 39.6 percent -- of June 10. It is France's fourth national vote in less than two months, and the country is showing clear signs of election weariness.

Among early voters at his constituency at Tulle in southern France was Socialist leader Francois Hollande who said, "In 80 seats it's a question of a few hundred votes either way, so a strong turn-out for us can make all the difference."

Elected on May 6 over the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, Sarkozy wants a large majority in the legislature in order to maintain the political momentum behind his promised reforms.

He has pledged to summon a special session of the National Assembly in July in order to push through the first stage of his programme, which will include key changes to the tax system meant to encourage the French to work harder.

Demoralised and deeply divided over Royal's defeat, the Socialist Party seems resigned to another five years in opposition and its campaign has focussed mainly on warning against a too large UMP majority.

Opinion polls suggested the UMP and its ally the New Centre will win between 405 and 435 seats in the 577-member Assembly, with the Socialists getting at most 170. Of the 110 seats decided in round one, all but one were for the UMP or its allies.

As the UMP already controls the legislature, it would be the first time since 1978 that a ruling party has retained its majority -- a sure sign that Sarkozy's claim to represent a "clean break" from the past is widely accepted.

The Socialist Party currently has 149 seats and will regard it as a success if it can retain all these or take some more. If it falls to below 100, there are likely to be immediate calls for heads to roll. Either way, bitter arguments lie ahead over the party's future.

The biggest losers in the election are likely to be the small parties, as the new Assembly looks set to be dominated by the UMP-Socialist divide.

The Communist Party is set to lose several of its current 21 seats and will not have enough to form a parliamentary bloc. The Greens will have three at most, and the far-right National Front once again none, according to polls.

The third-placed presidential candidate Francois Bayrou also looks set to lose the gamble he took when he created a new centre party MoDem last month and broke with Sarkozy's UMP. He may well be the only MoDem deputy to win a seat.

All but one of Sunday's 467 races are two-way challenges between left and right. The other is a "triangular" between candidates from the UMP, Socialist Party and MoDem.

Constituencies to watch include Bordeaux, where the powerful environment minister Alain Juppe faces a tight race. Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said that ministers who are rejected by the electorate will lose their cabinet posts.

Several Socialist heavyweights are also at risk of losing their seats, including Julien Dray, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnaud Montebourg. Royal herself is not running for the Assembly.

Voting ends at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), with reliable estimates of the results due immediately after.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article