French voters likely leaning left
Jun 17, 2012 / 8:30 am
French voters are choosing a new parliament Sunday that will determine how far Socialist President Francois Hollande can push for economic stimulus in France and around a debt-burdened, stagnant Europe.
The left is in the spotlight and expected to take the driver's seat of the 577-seat National Assembly after Sunday's second round of legislative elections.
Hollande's Socialists dominated the first round last week and pollsters predict they will win the most seats in the lower house. That would wrench it from the hands of former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservatives, who have led it for a decade.
The campaign focused on local issues but will determine the country's political direction, which has Europe-wide importance.
France is the second-biggest economy in the eurozone and, along with powerhouse Germany, contributes heavily to bailouts to weaker nations and often drives EU-wide policy.
Turnout in the French voting was 21.4 per cent at midday, comparable to the 2002 and 2007 legislative elections, with some voters not bothering to cast ballots because so many were predicting a Socialist victory.
The elections come after a hasty new bailout for Spanish banks, and the same day as crucial voting in Greece. The Greek elections may determine whether the country stays in the euro, with repercussions for all the other 16 countries that use the joint currency.
After budget-tightening in France under Sarkozy that leftists warned would send France back into recession, Hollande is pushing for government-sponsored stimulus to encourage growth - and has met opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the two try to stem Europe's crisis.
Hollande's Socialist government has pledged to reduce the deficit, but markets are worried about higher spending when France's debts are so high.
Hollande, a moderate and mainstream leftist who is committed to European unity, is hoping to get an absolute majority of 289 seats for the Socialists to avoid having to make concessions to the Euro-skeptic far left.
Claire Morel said she voted for the Socialist candidate in her well-off Paris district "because I've been waiting for change for a long time. ... Also I wanted to support Francois Hollande, the government and its projects."
Pascal Albe, a voter from the working class Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, said that though he generally votes for the right, Hollande should have a Socialist-led parliament. "Otherwise the country will be paralyzed, and especially now, we don't need that," he said.
Voting stations close in big cities at 8 p.m. (1800GMT). Polling agency projections of the results are expected soon afterward, and official results are expected late Sunday night.
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