- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

PARIS President Jacques Chirac's conservative forces appeared set to seize control of France's parliament after a commanding victory yesterday in a first-round election, partial results showed.
With 75 percent of the vote counted, the Interior Ministry said Mr. Chirac's coalition of mainstream right parties won 33.2 percent of the vote in the race for France's National Assembly. The Socialists and their allies won about 25.8 percent. Extreme-right parties saw their support slip after stunning France in presidential elections earlier this year.
Voter turnout was at a record low, with many in France weary of frequent elections and distracted by World Cup soccer.
Stymied by five years of power-sharing with the outgoing, Socialist-led parliament, Mr. Chirac desperately wants a majority to avoid another five-year period of "cohabitation," an unwieldy arrangement between opposite political parties that often results in governmental paralysis.
Mr. Chirac had no immediate comment, but the man he named prime minister a month ago, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said the result was "a call to action" from French voters.
"I'm launching an appeal for a grand mobilization in our country for the second round," he said.
According to three major polling firms, the right was projected to have 380 to 446 seats in the new 577-seat parliament. The Socialist-led left was projected to have 127 to 192 seats, with a maximum of two seats estimated for the extreme right. In the outgoing parliament, the leftists hold 314 seats, and the right has 258.
The combined extreme right garnered 12.6 percent support, and 2.8 percent went to the extreme left, the Interior Ministry said. The mainstream right parties together won about 43.5 percent, and the combined left won 35.8 percent.
Ultra-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen, who stunned France when he finished ahead of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential race, decried an "anti-democratic" electoral system in France that he said favors incumbents.
Mr. Le Pen, speaking on Television Francaise 1, said the left and right were "conniving to get themselves re-elected."
His National Front party scored about 11 percent, according to the Interior Ministry. He did not run in the race.
It was not clear if the National Front would earn any seats in parliament, but its showing was worse than its performance in the last legislative race in 1997, when it won 14.9 percent of the vote.
About 43 seats were won yesterday with an outright majority, meaning they do not have to go to a second round of voting on Sunday.
Turnout among France's 41 million voters was 65 percent, according to the Interior Ministry a record low for the first round of a legislative race under the Fifth Republic, established in 1958. In the 1997 legislative race, first-round turnout was 66 percent.
"The sheer number of candidates leaves voters confused. It isn't surprising there is such a high abstention rate," said Jean-Louis Maurax, a 61-year-old businessman who voted for a candidate from the Chirac coalition.
Another reason for the apathy is that this is the third national election day since April 21.
At least 8,456 candidates were running for the National Assembly increasing fears that an extremist might emerge on top in some districts should mainstream candidates split the vote.

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