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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Chirac allies capture first-round victory
UMP supporters in Paris
The centre-right were jubilant
President Jacques Chirac's right-wing coalition is poised to seize control of the French parliament next week after defeating a despondent left wing in the first round of parliamentary elections.


The right must not have all the powers

Elisabeth Guigou
Socialist ex-minister
With the counting of ballots completed, Mr Chirac's right-wing UMP coalition polled 43.6% while the mainstream left, which has dominated the National Assembly for the past five years, had obtained 36%, according to the Interior Ministry.

Support for the far-right was 12.2% - with Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front obtaining 11.2%, around five points lower than his showing in the presidential election. The result is also worse than the party's showing in the 1997 general election.


I think people are sick of cohabitation

Eric Brunet
Paris voter
But nearly 35% of voters stayed at home, giving hope to the left and the far-right that there could yet be surprises next Sunday, if they can mobilise their supporters.

"Everything is still possible, as long as we can mobilise the abstentionists - the right must not have all the powers," said the Socialists' former Justice Minister, Elisabeth Guigou.

The National Front could still enter parliament, but any hopes it may have nurtured of holding the balance of power in the new house appear to have been shattered both by its own performance and the strong showing of the centre-right.

Potent potential

Voters appear determined to end five years of "cohabitation" - the awkward co-existence between Mr Chirac's right-wing presidency and a left-wing parliament and government.

Socialist Party activists in Paris
There was little for the Socialists to cheer as results came in
If the centre-right does emerge triumphant after next week's poll, Mr Chirac would become one of the most powerful presidents in recent French history - with control over the National Assembly as well as the Senate.

The second round of the elections is due to take place on 16 June, where all candidates garnering more than 12.5% of the vote in the first round will go forward to a run-off.

The National Front could still prove a nuisance to Mr Chirac's conservative forces in seats where the far-right, the centre-right and the left have entered the second round, by splitting the right-wing vote.

This could allow the left-wing candidate to slip through.

However, the number of seats where this could happen is dramatically fewer than had initially been anticipated: it is predicted that only about 20 races will be a three-way fight next Sunday. Five years ago, there were 76 such contests.

Vindicated

Correspondents say the results appear to have vindicated Mr Chirac's strategy of rounding up all the mainstream, right-wing parties into one coalition, and using one of Mr Le Pen's favourite themes - crime - as a central plank of the electoral campaign, wooing back those voters who had been plumping for the far-right.

French President Jacques Chirac
Chirac looks set to gain an end to "cohabitation"
The president also made much of the need to end cohabitation.

The Socialists are still reeling from their defeat in the presidential election by the far-right, and the subsequent resignation of their leader, presidential candidate Lionel Jospin.

Despite a sound record of achievements in government, correspondents say that the left has come across as leaderless since Mr Jospin's departure from the helm.

Some observers even feel it would be to the Socialists' advantage to stay out of power for the next legislative term, avoid the series of tricky and unpopular issues that lie ahead of the next government, and formulate a new identity for themselves.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"Record numbers of people simply stayed at home"
Sylvie Pierre-Brossellette, Le Figaro newspaper
"French people are always fed-up with their politicians"
Parisians air their views on the election
"However you vote, you have no power over things. So you go fishing."

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10 Jun 02 | Media reports
07 Jun 02 | Europe
05 Jun 02 | Europe
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