Sarkozy’s parliamentary majority smaller than expected


Paris : Official results Monday gave French President Nicolas Sarkozy a majority in the parliamentary election run-off but it was not as large as he had hoped for or the polls had predicted.

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Sarkozy's conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and its allies will hold 336 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, according to the results of Sunday's vote released by the interior ministry. The UMP will hold an estimated 314 seats, with another 22 going to its centrist allies, the New Centre.

The results are no doubt disappointing for Sarkozy, as they represent a net loss of about 44 seats for the UMP compared to the number the party held in the outgoing National Assembly.

In addition, the opposition Socialist Party gained 36 seats, to 185. The entire French Left, including the Green and communist parties, will now have 204 seats, 31 more than they had in the preceding assembly.

Following Sunday's first round, all polls had predicted a landslide victory for the conservatives, with estimates showing them grabbing between 410 and 501 seats.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon called the election results a "clear decision" and promised to heed the opposition in parliament.

"Our democracy is strengthened," Fillon said, calling on the right and left to unite as a long election-cycle in France comes to an end.

In perhaps the biggest upset of the night, the conservative government's number two, Environment Minister Alain Juppe, was defeated by his Socialist opponent Michèle Delaunay in Bordeaux.

As a result, Juppe – who was prime minister under former president Jacques Chirac – announced he would resign his ministry. He will also almost certainly have to give up his ambition of playing a major role on the national stage in the coming years.

In another high-profile race, estimates show that attorney Arno Klarsfeld, a close associate of Sarkozy, was soundly defeated in his attempt to win a seat in Paris that had been held by UMP.

Another much-watched race also fell the Socialists' way as former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn easily won re-election in his district north of Paris. Strauss-Kahn is widely seen as a potential new leader for the Socialists.

Sarkozy will still be able to move his ambitious reform programme through parliament without much trouble but the vote was a message that the French voters did not want to give him carte blanche.

Socialist Party chairman Francois Hollande said that Sunday's vote had "corrected the tendency" of the first round and that French voters had wanted "to install a force against the new power".

Defeated presidential candidate Segolene Royal told Socialist supporters that the French people had voted to build "a truly constructive opposition" and that they had "awoken" between the two electoral rounds.

In the week between the two rounds of the parliamentary election, the Socialists criticized the government's proposal to increase the value added tax (VAT) by up to 5 percent, and the refusal of the government of Prime Minister Francois Fillon to raise the minimum wage more than the rate of inflation.

Polls showed that some 60 percent of the French were against a hike of VAT.

Voter turnout for the election remained low, with estimates suggesting an abstention rate of nearly 40 percent, identical with the record abstentions of last Sunday's first round.

It may be that the French had grown vote-weary, as Sunday's election was their fourth in eight weeks.