Voters in France cast their ballots in the first round of elections for the National Assembly. President Hollande hopes to gain a majority in order to shore up his position within crisis-stricken Europe.
Polling stations in France have opened on Sunday for the first round of parliamentary elections, just one month after socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in the May presidential runoff.
Hollande is hoping to gain a majority in the 577 member National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament. That would give the political left complete control over government, as the Socialist Party already has a majority in the Senate.
Recent surveys suggest that the left is currently favored among France's 46 million eligible voters. According to the French pollster CSA, 45.5 percent of voters currently favor a parliament controlled by left-wing parties while 33 percent would rather see right-wing parties come out on top.
Hollande's Socialist Party currently polls at 31 percent, with the remainder of the support for the political left going to the Greens and the more hard-line Left Front. The conservative UMP garners 30 percent support.
Consolidating domestic base
The three left-wing parties need to secure 289 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly to have a majority. But if the UMP manages to pull off a surprise victory, then so-called "cohabitation" would result in which the prime minister and government would be conservative, undercutting Hollande's ability to govern.
More than 6,000 candidates are taking part in the parliamentary election. A candidate has to receive 50 percent of the vote in order to win a seat outright in the first round. If there is no clear winner, then any candidate who had more than 12.5 percent support moves on to a second round scheduled for June 17.
The parliamentary elections are critical to shoring up President Hollande's base of domestic political support, as he seeks to push European partners - above all Germany - to renegotiate the fiscal pact and adopt a more growth-oriented approach to the eurozone debt crisis. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejects a reworking of the fiscal pact, she supports adopting a complementary growth pact.
Paris and Berlin also fundamentally disagree over the implementation of eurobonds, which would collectivize the eurozone's sovereign debt in a bid to control rising interest rates in crisis countries such as Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
jlw, slk/sb (AP, Reuters)