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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Q&A: French parliamentary election
French voters have elected a new parliament with an overwhelming right-wing majority. BBC News Online explains the importance of the vote, the key issues and what happens next.

How much power has President Chirac now got?

President Jacques Chirac has undergone an incredible transformation in a few short weeks. Having been a deeply unpopular, tainted president he is now one of the most powerful French leaders in modern history.

In the first round of the presidential election, held on 21 April, he scored the worst-ever tally for an incumbent president - just 19.67%.

At that point, he was barely ahead of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in opinion polls looking ahead to the second round.

But the surprise first-round victory of the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen forced millions of French voters - even socialists - to rally behind Mr Chirac in the presidential poll.

His thumping personal victory has now been backed up by a landslide general election win for his centre-right coalition, the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP).

It means he has a massive majority in the Senate and the National Assembly, and - finally - a right-wing government to enact his policies.

What policies can we now expect?

Crime and immigration were the focus of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Mr Chirac's interim government had been flexing its anti-crime muscles even before the general election, with the appointment of Nicholas Sarkozy as a powerful new minister of home affairs and security.

That focus is certain to continue.

But Mr Chirac has also promised to cut taxes dramatically, and to grasp the nettle of social and bureaucratic reforms.

What went wrong for the National Front?

The National Front has again been left without a single seat in the French parliament.

After the party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won six million votes in the presidential election, it had at one point seemed possible that the party could end up holding the balance of power in a divided parliament.

However, the first-past-the-post parliamentary voting system worked to the National Front's disadvantage.

But the absence of National Front MPs does not mean that the concerns which prompted so many French people to vote for the far-right will now be overlooked.

Issues like crime and immigration are likely to be made high priorities by the new government, as Mr Chirac demonstrates that he has "got the message" from voters.

What will the left do now?

The left are licking their wounds after a staggering collapse in fortunes. They entered the election season with a Socialist prime minister, a large parliamentary majority and a good chance of winning the presidency.

They have been reduced to a parliamentary presence of about 160 seats - down from their previous tally of more than 250.

Socialist leader Francois Hollande - who replaced Lionel Jospin after his presidential humiliation - has said the party must spend the coming months working out what went wrong.

Among other things, the party will have to take a watershed decision on whether to compete as a centrist party or to shift back towards the left in search of its traditional support base.

So does Chirac now have unbridled power?

Mr Chirac will be able to claim that he has a huge mandate from voters.

But he will need to be careful. When he introduced austerity measures in the mid 1990s, he sparked a wave of protests and strikes.

The socialists, in the short term at least, will provide little organised opposition. They will be too busy sorting out their own crisis.

Instead, opposition to Mr Chirac's policies is likely to come from pressure groups and France's powerful trades unions.

Has French political history been rewritten?

This has been a record-making election all round.

First, voters stayed away in record numbers. Even in the second round of the parliamentary poll, about 40% of voters stayed away.

Mr Chirac went from being the least popular president to winning the biggest majority.

Record numbers of candidates stood in both presidential and parliamentary contests.

It was the first election process to combine the parliamentary five-year term with a presidential term reduced to the same period.

Some of the big names of French politics are also out in the wilderness - among them Jean-Pierre Chevenement, Martine Aubry - who created the 35-hour week - Communist leader Robert Hue.

Who's got the real power - president or parliament?

Unusually for Europe, the president is supposed be largely responsible for driving the government, with his wishes put into effect by his prime minister, and legislation scrutinised and approved by parliament.

But that system grinds to a halt when the two are from different parties.

Mr Chirac's campaign for the parliamentary election centred on appealing to voters not to cripple him again by electing a Socialist government.

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