France voted yesterday in round one of elections tipped to give Socialist French President Francois Hollande the parliamentary majority he needs to steer the country through financial crisis, rising joblessness and a stagnant economy.
Hollande defeated right-wing former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in last month’s presidential election and is now calling for voters to turn out en masse to give him the mandate he needs to implement his tax-and-spend program. Final opinion polls before yesterday’s vote predicted the Socialists would not see a landslide victory, but would, with their Green and hard-left allies, emerge with a narrow, but workable majority.
The vote will also be a litmus test for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front, after she won 18 percent of votes in the first round of last month’s presidential election.
As polls predicted that 40 percent of election-weary voters might not bother to cast their ballot, the president appealed to voters to exercise their democratic right.
“I will only be able to bring about change, the change that the French have asked me to bring about, if I have a majority in the National Assembly,” he said on Thursday during a visit to the northern town of Dieudonne.
After taking 51.6 percent of the vote in the May 6 presidential run-off, Hollande moved quickly to give the Socialists an edge in the parliamentary elections, which include a second round vote on Sunday.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s interim government has taken a series of popular steps, including cutting ministers’ salaries by 30 percent, vowing to reduce executive pay at state-owned firms and lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers.
However, Sarkozy’s UMP party has hit back with warnings that the Socialists are preparing huge tax hikes to pay for what the right says is a fiscally irresponsible spending program.
UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope said the Socialists are preparing “the biggest-ever tightening of the screws on the middle class,” while former French prime minister Francois Fillon said the party would “massively boost taxes” if given a majority.
The economic backdrop is bleak for whoever wins the parliamentary vote, with unemployment at 10 percent, stalled growth, and a resurgent eurozone crisis. However, analysts say it is unlikely Hollande will be forced into what the French call “cohabitation” by a right-wing win in the parliamentary vote.
A BVA poll on Friday gave core left-wing parties 32.5 percent, 36.5 percent if they ally with the Greens, rising to 44.5 percent if the hard-left Left Front gets on board, with the mainstream right getting 33.5 percent.
An Ipsos poll for Le Monde newspaper gave the left 31.5 percent, or 44.5 percent if they ally with the Greens and the hard left, against 34.5 percent for the right-wing bloc.
More than 6,500 candidates will be competing to fill the seats in the French Assembly, which sits in a classical column-fronted building facing the River Seine in Paris.
The left already holds a majority in the upper house French Senate, which is indirectly elected.
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 vote is allowed to stay in the race for the second round.