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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Chirac's forces heading for landslide
Votes in a French ballot box
The Socialists are pinning their hopes on those who did not vote last Sunday
As France's political parties wind up their campaigns ahead of the final round of the legislative elections, latest opinion polls forecast a landslide victory for the allies of President Jacques Chirac.

Surveys suggest Mr Chirac's UMP coalition could win as many as 400 seats in the next parliament, while the Socialists - which led the government until last month - could lose half of their 200 seats.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Mr Le Pen hoped his party could hold the balance of power in parliament
The left has been trying all week to galvanise the record number of voters who abstained from the first round of elections last Sunday.

They are resigned to the prospect of losing power, but are urging voters to at least turn them into "a significant minority" in the house, capable of providing effective opposition.

They are not however confronting the prospect of being eliminated from parliament, as is the case of their former Communist partners.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front, having been buoyed by their success in the last presidential poll, can hope for at best two seats in the new house.

Mr Chirac, who attained the lowest score ever by an incumbent president in the first round of presidential elections, is on course to become one of the most powerful presidents in recent French history.

The right-wing are already in a majority in the Senate - which is not standing for re-election - and Mr Chirac is now looking at control of the National Assembly.

Tough decisions ahead

The UMP's cocktail of tax cut proposals and tough talk on law and order have apparently found favour with the French electorate, some 44% of whom backed centre-right candidates last Sunday against 36% for the Socialists.

French President Jacques Chirac
Mr Chirac's last reforming government fell in 1997
Some observers say it will in fact be in the left's interests to take a low profile over the next legislative term, as some tough, and potentially unpopular decisions await the next government.

It would also allow the Socialists, whose leader Lionel Jospin resigned after defeat in the presidential poll, to decide on a new identity - whether they should shift further to the left, or try to find a more central position.

And analysts warn that Mr Chirac could still have a rough ride ahead.

His last reforming government fell in 1997 soon after French people took to the streets to protest against reforms to the country's welfare system, and in particular against suggestions that pension provision should be overhauled.

The UMP will likely have to tackle the issue of pension reform, particularly given the fact that it plans to cut taxes and social security contributions

Tax cuts may also jeopardise France's world renowned health and transport systems, something correspondents say could provoke widespread hostility.


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28 May 02 | Europe
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