Monday, June 11, 2007

Sarkozy leads first election round

Jun 10, 2007

Voters in France have resoundingly endorsed President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to overhaul the French economy, giving his party a commanding lead in the first round of elections for parliament.

Mr Sarkozy's UMP party won 39.6% of the vote, while the opposition Socialists had 24.7%, the Interior Ministry said.

Mr Sarkozy's conservatives have a strong advantage heading into the decisive runoff next Sunday, on track to expand their absolute majority in the 577-seat parliament.

Control of the National Assembly is central to Mr Sarkozy's agenda of tax cuts, labour reforms, and other plans to try to shake France out of its malaise.

The election sapped support from the fringes -- including Jean-Marie Le Pen's once-influential extreme right National Front and the Socialists' farther-left allies -- and leaves France facing a parliament tilted unusually deeply to the right.

Turnout sank to a record low of 60.4%, which pollsters blamed on lack of suspense.

The UMP has been widely expected to win since Mr Sarkozy's strong victory over Socialist Segolene Royal in the president election last month.

Socialists tried to rally backing for the second round -- and tap fears of an all-powerful "Sarko state" if the president's camp gets a lopsided majority.

"There are crushing majorities that crush, dominant parties that dominate, absolute powers that govern absolutely," Socialist leader Francois Hollande warned.

Mr Sarkozy's backers say a convincing mandate is the only way to get the French, eager to strike and wary of globalisation, to reform.

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