Hollande braced for 'worst nightmare' in elections

President's austerity plans are in jeopardy as the hard left is set for a strong showing

President François Hollande may be forced to make policy concessions to France's virulently anti-austerity hard left after parliamentary elections tomorrow and next Sunday.

One of the final opinion polls before the first round of the elections showed a slight fall in support for Mr Hollande's Parti Socialiste. The Ipsos poll published yesterday suggested that Mr Hollande and his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, might have to rely on Green, Communist and other hard-left votes to push their programme though the new National Assembly.

Supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's Front de Gauche can be expected to back large parts of Mr Hollande's programme but will stoutly resist the spending cuts needed if France is to reduce its deficit, as promised, to 3 per cent of GDP next year. Communist and other hard-left members are also expected to call for a larger rise in the minimum wage than the modest increase promised by Mr Hollande during his successful run for the presidency this spring.

Another poll by Opinionway suggested that Socialists and Greens might have a large enough moderate-left majority to rule without the harder left after the second round next Sunday. Mr Hollande will certainly hope so. One of his closest aides has described the prospect of a hard-left pivotal vote in the new parliament as "our worst nightmare".

All recent polls suggest that, over the next two weekends, the French electorate will confirm its left turn in the presidential elections and kick the existing centre-right majority out of the lower house of parliament.

However, the small-print of the results in a fiendishly complicated two round system could make all the difference to Mr Hollande's chances of a successful presidency. Although the new French president has called for pro-growth policies in Europe and an end to "all austerity", he has also promised a "responsible" approach to debts and deficits.

The constitutional powers of a French president are more limited than those of an American president. It is the political complexion of the National Assembly which decides whether a president can rule with his own political friends and allies or whether he must appoint one of his opponents as prime minister.

The other great unknown in the election is whether the 15 per cent national support for Marine Le Pen's far right National Front will give the party seats in parliament for the first time under the present electoral rules. Pollsters forecast that the NF could win at most two seats.

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