Paris: Conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to bolster his parliamentary support yesterday as voters cast their ballots in a legislative election that is crucial for his wide-ranging reform plans.
Sarkozy was elected last month on a platform of various labour, education and law-and-order reforms and he hopes to retain comfortable control of parliament after the second round of voting on June 17 to push the changes through.
Opinion polls show Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party is likely to make gains.
"It's a referendum on Sarkozy's reform plans," Caroline Gaxie, 35, said after voting in the central city of Nevers.
The latest survey by pollsters BVA said the UMP is likely to win at least 366-419 deputies, a larger majority than the 359 seats it currently holds in the 577-seat National Assembly, against 120-173 for the Socialists, who have 149 seats.
Smaller groups like the Communists or Greens are expected to win just a handful of seats while the far-right National Front party is not expected to pick up any seats at all.
Turnout figures showed some 22.56 per cent of French had voted by midday (1000 GMT), up from the 19.7 per cent who had voted by the same time in a previous legislative poll in 2002, but down from the 31.21 per cent who had voted by midday in the first round of the presidential election on April 22.
"Many people seem less interested in the parliamentary elections because they think Sarkozy will win a large majority anyway," said Mikhael Perez, 48, a voter in Paris.
About 1 million citizens in France's overseas territories and French residents in the Americas voted on Saturday.
In his first weeks in office, Sarkozy built an image as an energetic president, meeting foreign leaders, announcing reform plans and promising to push through some new measures in a special summer session of parliament.
His popularity has surged since he beat Socialist Segolene Royal in the May 6 presidential election.
It will be the third time French voters cast their ballots in less than 2 months. The Socialists had urged their supporters not to give way to election fatigue and disappointment and turn out in large numbers.
The leftist party has not been helped by a round of infighting and finger-pointing after Royal's defeat last month which has distracted them from the legislative campaign.
The electoralprocess in detail
- Voters: 44.5 million registered voters, casting ballots at 85,000 polling stations. Voting age is 18.
- When: First round was yesterday, second and final round is on June 17. France's overseas territories vote earlier.
- Candidates: A total of 7,639 candidates are running for the 577 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament. Any candidate who wins more than 50 per cent in the first round wins the seat outright. If there is no clear winner, all candidates who score more than 12.5 per cent in the first round qualify for the run-off.
- Terms: Parliament members serve five-year terms, unless the president dissolves parliament and calls interim elections.
- Parties: Fourteen parties are fielding candidates. President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party, UMP, is expected to retain its current majority, followed by the Socialists. Others running include two centrist parties, the far right National Front, the Greens and the Communists.
- Result: Preliminary official results expected soon after polls close. Final results expected by early today.