By Stefan Simons in Paris
French President François Hollande received a boost to his power on Sunday when left-wing parties scored a clear majority in the first round of the French parliamentary elections.
Hollande's Socialist Party (PS) cornered around 35 percent of the vote and their green allies Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) came in at 5 percent. The final distribution of parliamentary seats will be fixed after the election's second round on June 17.
But it is already clear that Hollande's Socialists, supported by their Green allies, will score a solid majority. The result gives the Socialist president a free hand for his planned domestic political changes. The increased legitimacy also give Hollande a boost in his bid to change the direction of European policies on fighting the debt crisis.
Sunday's results also mean that political gridlock will be averted: The left-wing president will not have to work with a right-wing prime minister, a constellation known in France as "cohabitation." It also means that Hollande will most likely not have to rely on euroskeptic hard leftists to pass legislation -- thus enabling him to stick to his guns in the mounting euro crisis.
Observers said that the result means that Hollande's Socialist Party bloc will probably win the 289 seats needed for an outright majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, especially with the Greens on board.
Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) fared well and are now neck and neck with the Socialists. Support for the extreme right National Front (FN) slipped to 13 percent, compared to the almost 18 percent they won in the presidential election, even though party leader Marine Le Pen has a clear lead in her duel with the Left Party's Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Nevertheless, the bloc of the Left Party and the Communists are expected to end up with a stronger position in parliament.
Turnout, however, was lackluster at only 57 percent, reflecting widespread political weariness after a year of electoral campaigning and ballots.
The UMP had tried to take revenge for Nicolas Sarkozy's failure to retain the presidency. They warned of a "takeover" by the left, who are in power in most municipalities, counties and cities and also have a majority in the Senate, the upper house of the French parliament.
But the right's fear mongering did not work out. "People have the impression that they are being asked to answer a question that they have already answered," explained Emmanuel Rivière from the polling organisation TNS Sofres.
Among the conservatives, the battle to succeed Sarkozy is in full swing. Those who clocked up high support during the parliamentary elections have boosted their chances ahead of September's party congress where the leadership question will be decided.
The far-right National Front is unlikely to win more than three seats in the second round of the parliamentary election, due to French electoral law which discriminates against small parties. Party leader Marine Le Pen took the lead in her constituency in Hénin-Beaumont in northern France, scoring some 42 percent. The leader of the Left Party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, had run against Le Pen in the constituency, but he withdrew from the second round after Sunday's result.
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