Left wins first round in French legislative vote

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There is good news for France's new Socialist Party President, Francois Hollande. In the first round of legislative elections on June 10, voters gave a rousing victory to the left (the Socialists, the Greens, and the Left Front, which includes the Communist Party), and a stinging defeat to the UMP party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy and its allies.

According to official figures the vote went 46.77 percent for the left parties, and 37.07 percent for the UMP and its allies. The ultra-right National Front got 13.6 percent, a drop from the 18 percent they got in the presidential election.

The breakdown on the left was Socialists and close allies 34.4 percent, Greens 5.46 percent and Left Front 6.91 percent. On the right, the UMP itself got 27.12 percent, the Radical Party 1.24 percent, the New Center 2.2 percent and other right wing candidates 3.51 percent. Turnout was rather low, about 43 percent.

We won't know precisely how this translates into seats in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the French Parliament) until the second round is finished on June 17. But most commentators are saying that President Hollande's hand is greatly strengthened and that either the Socialist Party alone, or together with the Greens and the Left Front, will have a firm majority of at least 289 seats in the in the 577 seat Chamber. The old conservative Sarkozy coalition will be reduced, and the fascistic National Front, which blames France's economic and social problems on immigrants and especially Muslims, will have a couple of seats in the Chamber for the first time.

The French two-round system is unusual; instead of a runoff between the two top scoring candidates in the first round, it is between all candidates who, the first time, got at least 12.5 percent of the popular vote. However, there is not a third round; a plurality in the second round puts a candidate into a parliamentary seat.

One piece of bad news was that the ferocious leader and former presidential candidate of the National Front, Martine LePen, got the most votes, about 42 percent in the Northern constituency of Henin-Beaumont, and the Left Front presidential candidate, Jean Luc Melenchon, was eliminated from the second round. However, there is a good chance that the Socialist Party candidate can defeat LePen in the second round.

With strong backing in Parliament, Hollande will not only be able to achieve his legislative program in France, but also internationally.

In domestic affairs, he has already turned sharply away from Sarkozy's neo-liberal austerity programs, ending tax breaks for the rich and pushing for the retirement age of some workers to be restored to 60 years.

 In European affairs, it remains to be seen to what extent he will be able to counterbalance the Right Wing, pro-austerity policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the "Troika" (International Monetary Fund, European Union, and European Central Bank) who have been pushing drastic austerity policies on the European countries that are currently facing sharp economic crises.

Hollande also has promised to withdraw all French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.

Photo: Mathieu Cugnot/AP

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