Sarkozy Drives French Right Towards Big Poll Win
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to secure a huge parliamentary majority next week that will bolster his reform plans after his center-right allies dominated the first round of an election on Sunday.
Sarkozy's bloc will secure between 383 and 470 seats in the 557-member National Assembly at run-off ballots on June 17 after winning around 45% of the vote on Sunday, estimates showed.
Socialists were projected to win 60-170 seats, a result that could trigger a fresh bout of infighting in a party still reeling from May's third straight presidential election defeat.
Abstention was a record 39%, against just 16% in the presidential election, reflecting voter fatigue after months of electioneering and a widespread feeling the center-right was certain to win.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who won his seat outright on Sunday, said voters had given a "beautiful lead" to Sarkozy's allies but said the job was only half done. "Everything will really be decided next Sunday. That is why all the French will have to go and vote. Change is under way," said Fillon whose UMP party was set to become the first in France to hold on to power in an election since 1978.
Sarkozy had told voters that without a big majority in parliament his pledges to shake up France's hidebound economy would be stymied.
French media attributed Sunday's results to the new style and drive Sarkozy has displayed since winning the presidency on pledges to slash unemployment, cut taxes and boost growth as part of a wide-ranging reforms.
"The success of the UMP is without precedent in the Fifth Republic," said the conservative daily Le Figaro, whose front page headline on Monday ran: "The Sarkozy Dynamic."
"Never has a party garnered some 43% of the ballot in the first round of a legislative election," said the paper.
Centrist Francois Bayrou, third in last month's presidential vote, saw his support slump and said France's winner-takes-all system distorted democracy. His rebaptized Democratic Movement polled around 7% nationally and is expected to win 1-4 seats. Bayrou won 18.6% in the presidential ballot.
The Greens, struggling to retain its 3 seats, said it would back leftist candidates best-placed to beat the right.
"Stop an unfettered domination by the UMP," urged the Communist daily L'Humanite in a front page headline which echoed the views of senior Socialists.
"Come and vote, come for yourself, come for democracy, come for the Republic, come for France, come for social justice and come to help us reconstruct a new left," said Socialist Segolene Royal, who remains popular despite losing out to Sarkozy in the May presidential election.
The conservative "blue tide" also swept away half of the far-right National Front's vote, which fell to under 5%, with no seats in view.
The once powerful Communist Party was set to record one of its worst parliamentary performances in post-war history, retaining between 6 and 13 seats.