New French President Francois Hollande's Socialist party performed well in the first round of parliamentary elections yesterday, leaving them poised to seize a majority in the National Assembly.
First round results showed that the Socialists could win between 275 and 315 seats in the 577-seat assembly, according to pollster TNS Sofres. If they fail to achieve the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority, they are likely to be able to do so in alliance with the Greens.
It would mean Hollande would not need to seek the support of the hard-left Front de Gauche or Communists, and allow him to push ahead with his campaign promise to prioritise economic growth over austerity measures.
The result did not indicate a great surge in enthusiasm for Hollande's approach to dealing with the economic crisis, though, with turnout dropping to 57 per cent, a record low for French legislative elections. Nevertheless Hollande's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who won his seat in the first round, said the results showed that "change is going to be around for a while".
Overall the left won 46 per cent of the vote, the centre-right 34 per cent, and the far-right Front National 13 per cent – potentially giving the latter two seats and making it the third largest party after the Socialists and former president Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement. It marked a significant increase from the 4 per cent the Front National won in equivalent elections in 2007.
Front National leader Marine Le Pen knocked out hard leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Pas-de-Calais, a northern constituency, and will now go onto a run off against a Socialist candidate. In April the Front National achieved its best ever result in the presidential elections, winning nearly a fifth of the votes in the first round of that contest.
The second round of the assembly elections will take place on June 17. It will be contested in constituencies where no candidate won more than 50 per cent of the vote by all those who had the support of at least 12.5 per cent of the electorate. Last year the Socialists won control of the upper house, the Senate, and if they win an outright majority next week they would control both houses of parliament for the first time in modern history.
Meanwhile, Hollande has announced that French troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in July
, making good on a pledge that they would be pulled out of the country by the end of this year.