Hollande's prayer that voters will not tie his hands

Paris

If President François Hollande could have a secular prayer before the first round of parliamentary elections in France today, it would be something like this: "Oh God of elections, give me a left-wing majority but, please, not too left."

France's new president has surfed on a wave of popularity since his election on 6 May but the charmed life of "Monsieur Normal" could end abruptly if he fails to win a manageable majority in the new National Assembly in the second round of the legislative elections next Sunday.

All polls suggest that French electors will give the boot to the large, centre-right majority in the lower house of parliament and elect a majority of left-wing deputies. French voters are perverse but not so perverse as to elect a centre-left president one month and a centre-right parliament the next.

The opinion polls suggest that a majority for Mr Hollande's Socialists alone – 289 out 577 seats – is out of reach. He and his Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is also enjoying stratospheric levels of popularity, hope to assemble a majority of the "wider centre-left", embracing Socialist, radicals and Greens. The bizarre rules of the two-round election make precise forecasting impossible but the final polls suggest that Mr Hollande may be disappointed. He may also have to rely on parliamentary support from the Communists and other hard left deputies, running under the Front de Gauche (Left Front) banner of the anti-austerity, Eurosceptic populist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

If so, the balanced but creatively vague Hollande-Ayrault economics and fiscal programme for the next five years could be impossible to push through the national assembly. Mr Hollande has promised growth with fiscal discipline, including ill-defined cuts in the French state apparatus to reduce the budget deficit to zero by 2017. Mr Mélenchon and his supporters oppose almost all cuts in state spending and any cuts in the French welfare state, which is, by some estimations, the most generous in the world.

The second round of the election falls on the same day, next Sunday, as the new general election in Greece. The ailing euro could face a "double whammy" if Greeks vote once again to reject their EU bailout terms and President Hollande fails to win a fiscal-dicipline friendly majority in the National Assembly.

The French parliamentary campaign has generated little excitement. Four election days in three months is overkill even for the politically obsessed French. But the two-round election today and next Sunday may have profound consequences for French politics, beyond the ideological chemistry of the new parliamentary majority.

Marine Le Pen's cosmetically enhanced far-right party, the National Front, hopes for new success today, which could break the fragile mold of party politics on the French right.

Unlike the presidential election, more than two candidates can reach the second round if they take 12.5 per cent of all registered voters in the first. The bizarre dynamics of the two-round election mean that electors could face three-way choices in scores of constituencies next Sunday between left, right and far right. In other constitituencies, there may be two-way battles between the far right and left.

The left-wing parties and Greens have an understanding that only the best-placed left candidate fights the second round. Officially, the main centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire refuses to allow similar deals with the NF to "keep out the left". The UMP also refuses to advise its supporters to vote left in two-way battles with the far right.

But the UMP has been left sharply divided between nationalist-populist and traditional conservative camps by the former president Nicolas Sarkozy's unsuccessful copying of NF policies and language in the presidential campaign. Some UMP local leaders and many voters want local second round deals with the NF. Ms Le Pen hopes that these tensions can be exploited after the election to widen and, re-brand, her movement.

Although the NF is predicted to take 15 per cent of the vote nationwide, it may end up with, at most, two seats or none at all. The complexities of "two round" electoral politics are illustrated by the depressed ex-mining town of Hénin-Beamont in the Pas de Calais, where Ms Le Pen has been involved in a vituperative battle with Mr Mélenchon himself. The polls suggest that Ms Le Pen will top the first-round poll today but that neither of the great populist champions may win the seat.

A local Socialist is forecast by some polls (not all) to pip Mr Mélenchon for second place, forcing him to stand down. The combined left vote should then be sufficient to defeat Ms Le Pen in the second round next week.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea