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Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Chirac allies on course for victory
Woman votes in French election
Turnout seems little better than in the first round
Voting is continuing in the second and final round of the French parliamentary election, with the centre-right allies of President Jacques Chirac expected to win the largest share of the poll.

Mr Chirac has asked voters for a strong mandate, after spending most of his first term in office having to work with the Socialists.

It's true everybody's a bit bored with this election, especially now we have to go and vote for the fourth time

Student Cedric Dubois

Initial indications suggest that the turnout is only slightly higher than in last week's first round when a record number of voters stayed away.

The Socialists are not expected to do well, and the far-right National Front, which is taking part in only 37 of more than 500 constituency run-offs, may end up with no seats.

The BBC's James Rodgers, in Paris, says that President Chirac's UMP alliance appears quietly confident after capturing the largest share of the first round vote.

The UMP took more than 43%, while the Socialist-led left won slightly more than 36% of the votes.

Majority expected

Projections before Sunday's vote suggested the centre-right could win more than 400 seats in the 577 seat chamber.

Newly re-elected President Chirac has asked the electorate to give him a majority to support his drive to cut taxes and fight crime.

The Socialists, still in disarray after being ousted in the first round of the presidential elections by the far-right, are hoping for a high turnout to limit the expected centre-right victory. But predictions suggest that they are likely to be disappointed.

Coming close on the heels of the two-round presidential race, Sunday's election sees French people voting for the fourth time in three months.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front saw a large amount of its support disappear in the first round of voting and was not expected to see any improvement.

Jacques Chirac
Chirac could become one of France's most powerful leaders
But Mr Le Pen was nevertheless in bullish form when he arrived at a polling station in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud with a bodyguard.

He hailed the World Cup victory of the Senegal soccer team against Sweden earlier on Sunday, calling the African players - many of whom play for French teams - "a little bit of France".

Some voters said they were tired of the sniping between left and right that had characterised the "cohabitation" of the last government.

"We've had cohabitation for a long time," Elisabeth Tauzin, 53, a voter in Paris, told the Associated Press news agency.

"We have elected a president from the right, and now I think we will elect an assembly on the right to see what it's like when everyone's on the same side."

Voters have been casting ballots in the 517 seats where there was no outright winner in last week's vote.

Turnout disappointing

The first predictions of results are expected at about 2000 (1800 GMT), immediately after the polling booths close.

The left's hopes of a high turnout appeared not to have been fulfilled.

By noon (1000 GMT) less than one fifth of voters had cast their vote - only slightly more than at the same time last week when the preliminary round took place and a record one in three people did not vote.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin votes
Prime Minister Raffarin: Set to hold on to his post

Low turnout and voter disillusionment were blamed for the surprise success of the far-right National Front in the first round of the presidential elections in April.

Mr Chirac has said he would leave intact the shortened 35-hour working week, but would inject some flexibility into it to ease its burden on businesses.

Since Mr Chirac's victory, an interim right-wing government under Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has been promoting a strong law and order and tax agenda.

Mr Raffarin is tipped to continue to lead the government following the election.

The BBC's Helen Wade
"Both the left and the right are all too aware there is no room for complacency"
French political scientist Florence Faucher
"There are a few things on Mr Chirac's plate"

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16 Jun 02 | Europe
07 Jun 02 | Europe
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