French Socialists poised to take control

2012-06-11 11:00

Paris - French President Francois Hollande's Socialists and their allies knuckle down to campaigning on Monday ahead of next week's crucial parliamentary run-off flush with their first-round success.

The Socialists came out of Sunday's first round vote eyeing the absolute majority needed to pass tax-and-spend reforms after an election marked by inroads for Marine Le Pen's far-right anti-immigrant National Front party.

The Socialists, Greens and allies won almost 47% of the vote, ahead of the 34% for ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party and its allies, the final results released by the interior ministry showed.

Pollsters TNS Sofres, Ipos and OpinonWay agreed that the Socialists and close allies might win between 283-329 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly and may secure a majority in the parliament without having to rely on the votes of the Greens or the anti-capitalist Left Front.

Hollande defeated Sarkozy in last month's presidential election and wants voters to give him a strong mandate to enact reforms as France battles Europe's crippling debt crisis, rising joblessness and a stagnant economy.

If next Sunday's second-round confirms the results, it will boost his status in Europe as champion of the movement away from German-led fixation on austerity towards growth, which he favours as the solution to the economic crisis.

Building on strong showing

The National Front won 13.6% of the votes on Sunday, far above the 4.0% it achieved in the last parliamentary election in 2007.

But under France's first-past-the-post system, that would at best give it only three parliamentary seats and possibly none at all.

The Communist-backed Left Front, headed by firebrand anti-capitalist Jean-Luc Melenchon, won 6.9% of the votes, though he himself bowed out in a head-to-head fight against Le Pen in the first round.

Although the National Front, which wants to quit the euro, has not won a parliamentary seat since 1986, Le Pen is seeking to build on her strong showing in the presidential vote and cement her party's place in national politics.

Melenchon won 11% of the vote in the April-May presidential vote that was won by Hollande, while Le Pen won almost 18% of votes.

Hollande wants to secure a parliamentary majority in order to carry through on his pledges to hire an extra 60 000 new teachers and to hit top earners with a 50% tax rate on some of their income.

30% salary cut

The Socialists took control of the upper house of parliament, the Senate, last year.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's interim government has taken a series of popular steps in the wake of Hollande's presidential victory in the 6 May run-off.

He has cut ministers' salaries by 30%, vowed to reduce executive pay at state-owned companies and lowered the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers.

After Sunday's vote Ayrault hailed the results and urged voters to return to the polls in numbers for the second round to hand a "large, solid and coherent majority" for the Socialist party and its allies.

"Change is going to be around for a while," he said, echoing the Socialists' presidential election slogan.

But the UMP 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 programme for Europe's second-biggest economy.

The economic backdrop is bleak for whoever wins the parliamentary vote: Unemployment is at 10%, growth has stalled and the eurozone crisis has lurched back into the foreground.