Socialists cry victory as Chirac losesmajority in Senate

27th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists (PS) claimed victory in a partial election to the upper house of parliament, the Senate, Sunday as President Jacques Chirac's UMP party lost its outright majority in the 321-member chamber.

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialists (PS) claimed victory in a partial election to the upper house of parliament, the Senate, Sunday as President Jacques Chirac's UMP party lost its outright majority in the 321-member chamber.  

With final results awaiting declarations in France's overseas territories, the Union for a Popular Movement had lost seven seats and the PS had gained 10. The Green and Communist parties also won five extra seats between them.  

PS national secretary Bruno Le Roux said the UMP had suffered a "new defeat" after its setbacks in regional and European elections earlier this year.  

With 162 seats before Sunday's vote, the UMP had to lose just one to give up its control of the Senate. However its defeat was relative as the chamber retains an in-built conservative bias and the UMP will be able to share power with a centrist bloc led by the Union for French Democracy (UDF).  

Just over one third of seats in the 321-member body were being renewed in an indirect vote by an electoral college consisting principally of some 50,000 regional and local councillors.   

The college system means that conservative rural areas of France are over-represented in the vote, which gives the Senate an inherent leaning to the right. This has long been a bone of contention for the left, which believes the upper chamber has lost its legitimacy.  

While claiming to act as a moderating influence, (the Senate) has in fact been a bastion of conservatism. Far from ensuring a balance of powers, it has displayed a radical opposition - even obstruction - to governments of the left," said the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper Sunday.  

Sitting in the 17th century Luxembourg palace, 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, was re-elected Sunday but could face a challenge when the Senate reconvenes on Friday.  

Five government ministers were running for Senate seats, including Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin whose victory in the Vienne department was confirmed late morning. Ministers can hand their seat to a substitute and reclaim it after leaving government.  

Among the victors was the former interior minister and veteran Gaullist Charles Pasqua, who won a Senate seat in the Hauts-de-Seine department west of Paris.  

Pasqua, who is being pursued by the courts on a number of counts of fraud, lost a seat in the EU parliament earlier this year. His election Sunday means he once again has limited parliamentary immunity, which will make it harder for investigators to take him into custody.  

Also elected was former Communist party chief Robert Hue and the Green party's former environment minister Dominique Voynet.  

The left did well in Paris, where the Socialist victory in 2001 city elections had left it with a majority of local councillors. Of the capital's 12 senators, seven - up from five - are from the left.

Sunday's election was 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

0 Comments To This Article