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Europe

Left Braces for Defeat in French Election

The French seem to be election-weary: barely half the eligible French voters had turned out by late afternoon in the first round of French parliamentary elections on Sunday. The Socialists are likely to crumble.

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Jacques Chirac: the clear winner

In a repeat performance of voter apathy just weeks earlier, French voters today largely stayed away from polling booths prompting new fears of a strong showing by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right.

French politics was thrown in disarray by the shock success of Le Pen’s National Front in April’s presidential election. His success was attributed to voter indifference and low turnout.

Today’s voting round is expected to give President Jacques Chirac’s centre-right coalition government a clear mandate. Recent opinion polls indicate that President Chirac’s Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) – a coalition uniting three of France’s man right-wing parties – could well win 40 percent of the vote in the first round.

Chirac's caretaker Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has urged voters to give a coalition of the president's centre-right allies a majority.

Despite clear skies and sunny weather that was expected to lure voters out in large numbers, official figures showed that turnout in the first four hours of polling until noon was at an unprecedented low of 19.73 percent of the electorate, down from 22.74 percent at the same time point in the last election five years ago.

The vote is expected to oust the Socialist-led left-wing bloc, which has dominated parliament for the past five years. Opinion polls suggest that the French people would like an end to the awkward co-existence between Chirac’s right-wing presidency and a left-wing parliament.

Analysts also fear that a record number of candidates - an average of 15 in each of the 577 constituencies - has raised the prospect of Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front profiting from a split vote.

If no one in a constituency wins more than half the votes in round one, candidates there who poll more than 12.5 percent of the registered electorate go through to a final round next Sunday.

The possibility of a fragmented vote means National Front candidates could qualify for the second round in more than 150 constituencies.

Such a result would deal a further blow to the Socialists, still recovering from a resounding defeat and subsequent resignation of their presidential candidate, Lionel Jospin in April.

The party’s caretaker leader, Francois Hollande, appealed to voters to hamper the far-right’s chances.

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