Key facts about the French parliament

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France will on Sunday hold the first round of voting for its lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, following Socialist Francois Hollande's presidential election win last month.

More than 6,500 candidates will be competing to fill the 577 seats in the Assembly, which sits in a classical column-fronted building facing the River Seine in central Paris.

Voting takes place under a constituency-based simple majority system, but in two rounds.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round, any contender with more than 12.5 percent of the registered vote is allowed to stay in the race for the second round, which takes place June 17.

In practice, however, the leading parties usually strike deals whereby less well-placed candidates agree to stand down, often in exchange for reciprocal favours in other constituencies.

This gives rise to intense horse-trading between the two rounds.

The French parliament -- which also includes the upper house Senate, elected by indirect suffrage -- has fewer powers than its opposite numbers in many other democracies.

Its ability to block or amend legislation is limited by the powers of the government, which is itself often beholden to France's powerful head of state.

But under France's political system, the president requires a parliamentary majority to maintain a government, otherwise the prime minister is in charge of the executive.

French voters have always handed a majority to newly elected presidents but there have been rare cases of "cohabitation", as when former president Jacques Chirac dissolved parliament and Socialist Lionel Jospin governed from 1997 to 2002, and former Socialist president Francois Mitterrand had to deal with right-wing majorities in 1986-88 and 1993-95.

The outgoing parliament is dominated by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party, which has 314 seats in the Assembly. The Socialists have 204.

For the first time this year, French voters living abroad will also be electing representatives for 11 expatriate districts, representing 1.1 million people.

© 2012 AFP

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