Sunday, June 10, 2007

PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right allies were headed for a parliamentary landslide after a first-round legislative election yesterday, bolstering his chances of implementing wide-ranging reforms.

Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party won 39.6 percent of the vote, while the opposition Socialists had 24.7 percent, the Interior Ministry said.

A jubilant right said voters had decided to give Mr. Sarkozy the tools to carry out his pledge to boost growth, cut taxes and slash unemployment, but the left and centrists said a crushing right-wing majority was unhealthy and threatened democracy.

Abstention looked set to hit a record of about 39 percent, against just 16 percent in the presidential election, reflecting deep voter fatigue after months of electioneering and a widespread feeling the center-right was certain to win.

Pollster CSA said Mr. Sarkozy’s bloc, which has an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly lower house, would win between 440 and 470 seats in the after a second round of voting on June 17. IPSOS Dell pollsters saw the center-right taking between 383 and 447 seats against 120 to 170 for the mainstream left.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who won his seat in the first round yesterday, said voters had given a “beautiful lead” to Mr. Sarkozy’s allies but warned that the job was only half done.

“Everything will really be decided next Sunday. That is why all the French will have to go and vote. Change is under way,” said Mr. Fillon, whose party was set to become the first in France to hold onto power in an election since 1978.

CSA gave the opposition Socialists, in disarray since last month’s third straight loss in presidential elections, just 60 to 90 seats compared to the 149 seats the party won in 2002 elections.

Senior Socialists appealed to voters to turn out en masse next week in a bid to stem the conservative “blue tide” that risked submerging the opposition in parliament.

“Come and vote, come for yourself, come for democracy, come for the Republic, come for France, come for social justice and come to help us reconstruct a new left,” urged Socialist Segolene Royal, who remains popular despite losing to Mr. Sarkozy in the May presidential elections.

Among the big losers yesterday were parties at both ends of the political spectrum.

The far-right National Front saw its vote halved to less than 5 percent, with no seats in view, while the Communists suffered their worst parliamentary performance in postwar history, taking 5 percent of the vote, which could produce between 6 and 13 seats.

Former leftist Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the right risked emerging too powerful from the vote. “In the Assembly, having 400, 450 right-wing deputies and a small number of left-wing deputies makes democratic debate impossible.”

The Socialist campaign was dogged by infighting and finger-pointing after the defeat of Miss Royal. She has indicated that she would like to take over as Socialist party leader but remains a controversial figure within the left.

Francois Bayrou, the centrist who polled a strong third in last month’s presidential vote, saw his support slump and said France’s winner-takes-all system distorted democracy.

“France will regret this imbalance one day or another,” said Mr. Bayrou, whose renamed Democratic Movement polled about 7 percent nationally and is expected to win one to four seats. The centrist won 18.6 percent in the presidential ballot.

Eleven Cabinet members were standing for election, and Mr. Fillon has ruled that they will have to quit if they lose.

Like Mr. Fillon, a number of government ministers were elected outright yesterday, including Economy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Xavier Bertrand and Defense Minister Herve Morin.

Government No. 2 Alain Juppe, who had faced potentially the most difficult ballot, appeared well-placed for a runoff in his Bordeaux fiefdom.

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