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French President Hollande's hand strengthened by parliament vote, Socialists close to majority

French President Francois Hollande is seen prior to meeting his Niger counterpart Issoufou Mahamadou, unseen, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Monday June 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS - Allies of French President Francois Hollande mobilized Monday in hopes of securing a crushing parliamentary majority for the Socialists that could bolster him in talks on how to save the embattled euro currency and revive Europe's economic fortunes.

Leftists dominated the first round of legislative elections, and Socialist leaders are calling for a final push of party unity ahead of Sunday's decisive second round of voting for seats in the National Assembly.

Hollande, who was elected last month, wants his political kin to control the powerful lower house of Parliament for the next five years so he can move forward with plans to strengthen the state's role in the economy, create thousands of teaching jobs and tackle high youth joblessness.

Final results released Monday from nationwide balloting the previous day showed the Socialists and their allies on the left winning at least 46 per cent of the vote. The main conservative bloc — led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party — had at least 34 per cent.

The unaligned far-right National Front won 13.6 per cent, remaining a wild card for the June 17 second round. Tiny parties drew the rest.

"(Voters) have clearly expressed their desire to give Francois Hollande the means to act during this five-year term," Socialist boss Martine Aubry told reporters. "Everything has to be done, that's why this second round is absolutely crucial — and the marching order is simple: unity, and mobilization."

Hollande didn't address the election result in brief comments to reporters Monday after a meeting with Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Polling agencies that have calculated the numbers precinct-by-precinct say the Socialists and allies could win an absolute majority in the 577-seat Assembly in the final round. It would cap the left's near-universal control of France's political landscape: The Socialists won control of the Senate last year; they or their allies run 21 of mainland France's 22 regional governments; Socialist mayors run many big cities including Paris, Lille and Lyon.

The Socialists were once badly riven by personal infighting and ideological clashes over issues like the ill-fated European Union Constitution referendum in 2005. But over the past year, their political-campaign management has improved, allowing the Socialists to capitalize on sluggish economic growth, high state debt and disillusionment with Sarkozy's brash style to oust conservatives from years in power.

An absolute Socialist majority in the National Assembly, where bills originate and require final passage before becoming law, would give Hollande a free hand to pass — or reject — possible European Union treaties in the future and bypass more EU-skeptic parties of the far left.

Under France's arcane voting rules, the anti-immigration National Front party tallied a double-digit percentage of the nationwide vote — yet may end up with no parliament seats because of the racist, intolerant reputation often associated with the party. Dozens of its candidates qualified for the second round, but only zero to three were expected to win seats, according to pollster estimates.

Still, the far-right party's growing influence was still being felt on Monday.

The Socialists called for alliances among mainstream candidates — whether right or left — to prevent the National Front from winning seats. The UMP party boss, Jean-Francois Cope, told Europe-1 radio his party would strike no alliances with the National Front, but was noncommittal about whether UMP candidates would ally with Socialists to keep the party out of parliament.


Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2012
The Associated Press

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