French President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is set to win the largest number of seats in parliament, exit polls for the first round of the country’s legislative elections yesterday showed.
Hollande will have to wait until the June 17 second round to know if he has an absolute majority or will need allies in parliament, some of whom say his plans to increase spending and taxes are too timid.
In yesterday’s round, the Socialist Party and its Green and Left Front allies took 46.9 percent of the popular vote nationally, according to pollster Ipsos. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement and its allies got 34.6 percent. The Interior Ministry will issue official results later today.
“The Socialist Party has actually a good chance of winning an absolute majority on its own,” Dominique Barbet, an economist at BNP Paribas SA in Paris, wrote in a note to clients. “This would be helpful in case Hollande decides to deliver some austerity in the near future or, possibly, some structural reforms further down the road.”
Hollande, who won the presidential election on May 6, needs control of the lower house of parliament to push through his proposals to rekindle French economic growth and stem the rise in joblessness, which is at the highest in 13 years. Without a majority in parliament, a French president is reduced to a figurehead in domestic policy, retaining only some room for maneuver on foreign and military policy.
Losing control over parliament has cost earlier presidents. Jacques Chirac couldn’t prevent a Socialist-led parliament from cutting the French work week to 35 hours in 2000. Francois Mitterrand was powerless to stop a conservative government in the early 1990s from selling companies he’d nationalized.
A majority for Hollande’s party would give France’s Socialists control of the presidency and the National Assembly for the first time since 1993. The Socialists took control of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, last year for the first time in 50 years.
The election yesterday was fought in 577 constituencies. In those where no candidate took more than 50 percent in the first round, contenders with 12.5 percent progress to the next round.
The Socialists alone will win between 275 seats and 305 seats in the second round, Ipsos forecast based on the first-round results, with 289 seats needed for a majority. CSA, another pollster, projected 283 to 329 Socialist seats.
“The French have listened to Francois Hollande’s call for change,” Martine Aubry, head of the Socialist Party, said on France2 television. “But nothing is decided yet and I’m calling for a strong mobilization next Sunday.”
Together with the Radical Left Party, the Greens, and the Left Front, who all disagree with the Socialist Party on some issues even though they have said they will support Hollande’s government, the left bloc will have at least 310 seats and maybe as many as 356 seats, Ipsos predicted.
The UMP and its allies will have between 224 seats and 261 seats, Ipsos said, while CSA forecast 210 to 263, not enough to control parliament. The anti-euro National Front, which had 13.4 percent of the vote, will win between zero and two seats, Ipsos forecast. The UMP won’t make any electoral agreements with the National Front, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.
“I will not call for a vote for candidates who propose insane solutions such as the end of Europe, exiting the euro, and turning in on ourselves,” Fillon said on TF1 television.
Turnout in the first round was 57.2 percent, less than the 61 percent in 2007, the Interior Ministry said.
Among individual votes, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici took 40.8 percent in his constituency in eastern France, the Interior Ministry said. He’s expected to win in the run-off against candidates from the UMP and the National Front.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius were elected in the first round.
In a closely watched contest in the north of France where Left Front presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon took on National Front leader Marine le Pen, Melenchon was eliminated in the first round. Le Pen, who took 42 percent in the first round, will face a Socialist candidate in a run-off.
Talks between the Left Front and the Socialists to present common candidates in the legislative elections failed last month, with Melenchon and Aubry blaming the other for the breakdown. Even without Melenchon in parliament, the Left Front could win between 12 seats and 17 seats, Ispos projected.
Melenchon and Hollande have clashed over euro policy. When Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s anti-bailout Syriza party, visited Paris May 21, Melenchon hosted him at a press conference and a rally, and derided Hollande as the “candidate of austerity.”
No Socialists met Tsipras, and Hollande has said Greece must abide by its rescue deals, even if he has also spoken about the need for growth measures.