Francois Hollande, who was elected president of France last month, may have to rely on the anti-capitalist fringe in parliament after legislative elections that start today.
The two-round vote that ends June 17 will probably give Hollande’s Socialist Party the largest number of seats in parliament, though it may need the support of communist-backed parties to have an effective majority. As of 5 p.m. Paris time, the Interior Ministry reported on its website, voter turnout was at 48.3 percent, compared with 49.3 percent during the first round of parliamentary elections in 2007.
“Even if the Socialists do win a majority, it could be with such a tight margin that Hollande won’t be able to rule without allies,” said Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, head of the opinion department at Paris-based pollster LH2. “The question then becomes what conditions the far left imposes as a price.”
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. President Jacques Chirac couldn’t prevent a Socialist-led parliament from cutting the French work week to 35 hours in 2000. President Francois Mitterrand was powerless to stop a conservative government in the early 1990s from selling companies he’d nationalized the previous decade.
Along with allies from the Radical Party and the ecologists, a Socialist Party bloc may control between 271 and 334 seats, according to three polls this month from Ifop, TNS-Sofres and OpinionWay. A total of 289 are needed for a majority in the 577-member National Assembly.
If none of the candidates, who run in electoral districts, wins 50 percent in the first round, all of them receiving at least 12.5 percent makes it to the decisive round a week later.
Hollande was sworn in May 15. Parliament has been out of session since March 7 because of the presidential campaign. The Socialists and their allies already control the upper Senate, which isn’t up for re-election. The parties of Mitterrand, Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy all won the parliamentary vote that followed their presidential election.
“I ask the French to elect a majority for change,” Hollande said in a May 29 interview on France 2 television, playing off his winning presidential campaign slogan. “If the French chose me, I think they also intend to give me a large, solid and coherent majority” in parliament, he said.
Investors are giving Hollande the benefit of the doubt, sending French borrowing costs to an all-time low since he defeated Sarkozy on May 6. The yield on France’s benchmark 10-year bond slid to a record 2.07 percent on June 1. The government took advantage of the decline by selling 7.84 billion euros ($9.81 billion) in debt on June 7, including 50-year bonds for the first time since 2010.
Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Majority, which has controlled parliament the past five years, would win between between 220 and 274 seats, not enough for a majority, the polls showed. Marine Le Pen’s National Front may capture as many as five seats.
If the Socialist bloc isn’t comfortably over 289, Hollande’s party would need to cut a deal with the communist-backed Left Front, credited with 13 to 24 seats in the three polls.
Talks between the Left Front and the Socialists to present common candidates in the legislative elections failed last month, with Left Front leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry blaming the other for the breakdown.
Melenchon met Hollande June 5 and offered conditional support. “We will criticize and play our role in parliament,” Melenchon said. “But we are not political adversaries. It won’t be us to bring down a leftist government.”
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.
“Although outside of the government, Melenchon’s party and the Communists would still have an influence over the implementation of future policy through their vote in parliament,” said Dominique Barbet, senior economist at BNP Paribas in Paris.