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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Sarkozy tipped for safe majority
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy is riding a wave of popularity
Opinion polls in France suggest that the country's new right-wing President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is about to savour a fresh all-out victory in the parliamentary elections.

The elections start with a first round on Sunday, with the second and decisive stage on 17 June.

Pollsters predict a "blue wave" for the right across whole swathes of the country, as the nation plans to deliver Mr Sarkozy the majority he needs to push through the sweeping economic reforms he promised during his presidential campaign.

He is surfing a wave of popularity, with 67% of the French pronouncing themselves very satisfied with his performance so far.

'Energetic' leadership

Many in France believe "Speedy Sarko" has proved a breath of fresh air at the Elysee Palace, bringing to the presidency the same hyper-active energy that he brought to campaigning.

His daily morning jogs - often with his Prime Minister Francois Fillon - have led him to be dubbed "Nike-olas" by France's satirists.

Nicolas Sarkozy jogging
"Speedy Sarko" has got off to an energetic start
Many French are delighted to have a younger leader - 52 years old, compared to the former president, 74-year-old Jacques Chirac - who appears confident on the world stage, without neglecting domestic affairs.

Pro-Sarkozy MPs from the governing UMP party are predicted to win some 42.5% of the vote in the latest poll in Le Point news magazine, with the Socialists and their allies on 29%.

Apart from the Socialists, the main casualty of these upcoming elections looks likely to be the new party formed by France's "third man", Francois Bayrou.

Mr Bayrou hoped to translate his relative personal success in the first round of the presidential race into seats for his new Social Democrat-style Democratic Movement (MoDem). Instead he may win only a handful of seats including his own, as many of his former UDF colleagues abandoned him to throw in their lot with the Sarkozy team.

Reform agenda

The already wounded French left is likely to implode if the opinion polls prove true - predicted to gain just 80 or so seats, compared with the 420-460 seats predicted for the UMP in the 577-member parliament.

That would help Mr Sarkozy push through his plans: to make public employees provide a minimum service during strikes, to cap personal income tax at 50% of earnings, and to loosen labour laws, including making overtime after the first 35 hours a week free of tax or social charges. He wants to encourage workers to "work more to earn more".

Former French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal (r) and party first secretary Francois Hollande (l)
Ms Royal has made a bid for her partner's job as Socialist leader
Mr Sarkozy will be well aware that striking fast during the honeymoon period after the elections may be his best chance to reform France. The nation's upbeat mood has been boosted yet further by the unemployment figures, showing a drop to 8.2%.

Business confidence is up, amid real optimism that Mr Sarkozy could be the man who succeeds in kick-starting the French economy and helping it to compete.

Weak opposition

Even Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right leader, seems to be finding it hard to muster real opposition to Mr Sarkozy, despite trying to campaign against him on Europe.

He has warned voters that a UMP majority will mean the re-emergence of the European Constitution, which French voters rejected in 2005.

As for the French left, much bloodletting, soul-searching and a Socialist leadership battle look almost certain after the June elections.

The main casualty is likely to be the party leader, Francois Hollande, who also happens to be the partner of the losing presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, and father of their four children.

Ms Royal has already made a clear bid for her partner's job, arguing that any new Socialist leader should automatically be the candidate for the next presidential elections in 2012.

French newspapers have speculated about the strains the current political situation is putting on the couple's relationship, and whether they are indeed still a couple in anything but name.

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