François Hollande set to deliver French left majority



The triumph of the French left in the first round of parliamentary elections threatens to redraw the map of party politics in France.

President François Hollande seems assured of a friendly centre-left majority in the new National Assembly before the second round this Sunday. He may even be given an absolute majority of Socialists and their satellite parties for the first time in 26 years.

The election may also: wipe out the once powerful, independent centre; give the Greens their biggest-ever parliamentary presence; and widen dangerous splits in the main centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). The far-right National Front (NF) hopes to win up to three seats, entering parliament for the first time under the existing electoral rules.

Confrontations and illicit courtships were under way yesterday between the far-right and centre-right to try to build, or block, local deals before the second round of voting this weekend.

One sitting centre-right deputy, in the Rhône delta, was considering defying his national leadership and withdrawing from the race to deny a seat to the left and, in effect, hand it to the NF. After the first round on Sunday, Mr Hollande's Socialists and satellite parties are predicted to win between 283 and 329 deputies in the 577-seat National Assembly this weekend. The Europe Ecology-the Greens party, with whom Mr Hollande is closely allied, was predicted to win 14 to 20 seats. The hard left, Front de Gauche, could win 13 to 18 seats.

The centre-right UMP and allies were expected to win between 220 and 260 seats. The NF has a chance of winning in at least three seats. These include the depressed former mining town of Hénin-Beaumont in the Pas de Calais, where NF leader Marine Le Pen took 42 per cent of the first-round vote.

The centrist Mouvement Démocrate faced losing all its seats in France proper, including the fiefdom of its leader, François Bayrou in the Pyrenean foothills.

Despite her powerful score in the first round, Ms Le Pen is not completely assured of winning a seat in the Pas de Calais. After the defeat of the hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon on Sunday, left-wing voters may rally behind the local Socialist candidate, Philippe Kemel.

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