Sarkozy pledges openness ahead of vote

12th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 12, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged Tuesday to pursue his policy of "openness" toward the left and minorities as his rightwing party headed for a massive victory in parliamentary elections.

PARIS, June 12, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged Tuesday to pursue his policy of "openness" toward the left and minorities as his rightwing party headed for a massive victory in parliamentary elections.

Sarkozy urged supporters to stay mobilized to secure a strong majority in the National Assembly after his rightwing UMP party took a commanding lead in the first round of voting on Sunday.

"The confidence that you have entrusted in me gives me the obligation of ensuring diversity, ensuring openness, and ensuring unity," Sarkozy said during a visit to the southern Alpes-Maritimes region.

"I say to all our voters, to those who believe in us, who want to give me this majority: stay mobilized until next Sunday."

Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and its allies were on course to win a landslide victory in the second round of voting, garnering up to 501 seats in the 577-member National Assembly.

The UMP had 359 seats in the outgoing parliament while the main opposition Socialists had 149 deputies.

Of the 110 members of parliament that were elected in the first round, only one was from the Socialist Party.

A big victory for Sarkozy would give him free rein to push through his bold programme of reforms that were the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

Sarkozy, who took over from Jacques Chirac last month, has promised to give universities more autonomy, tighten immigration, make labour laws more flexible and reduce taxation.

After beating Socialist Segolene Royal in the presidential race, Sarkozy broke ground by appointing prominent leftist Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister and Rachida Dati, a woman of north African origin, as justice minister.

The cabinet appointments -- coupled with promises of tax cuts and other reforms -- have won him a strong approval rating, with 61 percent of French voters saying in a poll released Tuesday that they agree with his course of action.

With just five days to go before the vote, Sarkozy's political opponents struggled to energize their campaigns and limit their losses.

Deeply divided, the Socialists suffered a further setback when centrist leader Francois Bayrou rejected negotiations on forming an alliance ahead of the second round.

Royal had called Bayrou on Monday to try to tap into his voter base as the Socialists faced another potentially disastrous electoral defeat.

"I will not give supporters any guidance on how to vote. I will not enter into these kinds of mechanics," Bayrou, whose Democratic Movement picked up 7.6 percent of the vote in round one, told RTL radio.

Participation in Sunday's vote was a record low at 60.5 percent, with polls showing that more than half of young voters had stayed away, depriving the Socialists of support.

A record number of candidates from France's Arab and black minorities ran for seats but only a dozen qualified for the second round.

Former equal opportunities minister Azouz Begag, who was knocked out of the race, lamented that French voters were not "quite ready" to elect minorities to the Assembly.

"Let's be frank. I think the French people are not quite ready to vote for candidates that they consider foreigners," Begag, who is of Algerian origin, told French radio.

None of the outgoing deputies in the 555 seats from the mainland are from visible minorities even though France is home to Europe's biggest Muslim community of about five million.

Promoting diversity in politics became an issue after the 2005 riots in the rundown suburbs, where descendants of north African and African immigrants complain they are shut out of mainstream society.

First-round results showed the Socialists and their allies ahead in 109 constituencies while the Communist Party, which had 21 seats, was leading in eight districts.

The Greens were on track to maintain their two seats in parliament while Bayrou's party could pick up two seats.

The far-right National Front was not expected to win any seats despite the fourth-place showing of leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the presidential election, with some 10 percent of votes.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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