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PARIS (Reuters) - French voters choose 577 parliamentary representatives in June in an election that will establish the balance of power for the next five years, and with it Emmanuel Macron's capacity to pursue a pro-EU agenda and promised domestic policy reforms as president.
Here is a rundown of the election process, how the political parties are positioning themselves and some pointers on a ballot that is hard to predict as a new Macron party with a full field of parliamentary candidates transforms the political landscape.
June 11: First Round
June 18: Second voting round
The election involves 577 constituency contests for seats in the National Assembly, where an absolute majority starts at 289 seats. Mandate of five years.
The voting system is 'first past the post': candidates with an absolute majority of votes cast are elected. Short of that, those who obtain 12.5 percent or more of votes cast go to the second round, where the top scorer wins.
The reality is that the lion's share of constituency contests go to a second-round playoff between two, three and sometimes four candidates. The top scorer wins.
This system tends to encourage pre-election accords between compatible political parties to field candidates with the goal of winning a maximum number of seats and subsequently sharing power secured through those victories.
There also tend to be public or tacit agreements whereby one candidate steps down after round one if needed to boost the victory prospects of an acceptable competitor or to prevent an arch-foe obtaining the seat.
Everything has changed: alongside the traditionally dominant parties, the arrival of Emmanuel Macron's start-up political party, Republique En Marche (REM), or Republic on the Move has redrawn the landscape dramatically.
Pollsters say that upends standard benchmarks. The 2012 legislative election, for example, included 420 two-way, left-right playoffs but this time the options are vastly more complicated given the presence of the centrist REM.
Beyond desertions to Macron's camp, the Socialist Party is splintering between hardliners who want the party to play the role of parliamentary opposition and moderates who are keener to play a co-operative role if the party secures enough seats to matter.
For The Republicans (LR), a party that believed it would return to power in 2017, the strategy for now is to aim for a large enough number of seats to force Macron into a power-sharing arrangement.
The National Front (FN) is under strain internally even though Marine Le Pen nearly doubled her presidential score from 18 percent in 2012 to 34 percent in 2017. The 2012 ballot put National Front member Marion Marechal Le Pen in parliament along with two other hard-right allies. Marion Marechal Le Pen has, however, announced she will not be running this time.
Opinion polls suggest that the as yet untested REM will secure the largest percentage of votes in June, ahead respectively of the LR and the FN on the political right. Behind them are the left-wing parties including the Socialist Party (PS) that controlled parliament for the last five years.
A Harris poll published on May 11 gave the following pecking order: 29 percent for REM and MoDem allies, 20 percent National Front, 20 percent LR and UDI allies, 14 percent France Insoumise (hard left), 7 percent Socialist Party and PRG allies, 3 percent EELV (Greens), 2 percent Communist Party (PCF).
Percentage scores give an idea of the relative popularity of competing political groups, but little insight into concrete seat victories in the second round, where contenders from left-wing parties, and to a lesser extent LR right-wingers, agree pacts to prevent National Front wins.
Using a statistical model based on a string of assumptions, Opinionway estimated the following potential shareout ranges, of the 535 seats from mainland France constituencies: Macron's REM 249-286, LR/UDI 200-210, PS/allies 28-43, FN 15-25, hard-left 6-8.
The past three parliamentary elections have given outright majorities in the National Assembly to parties allied to the president elected in a ballot that precedes the legislative ballot by a month.
- 2012: Socialists and allies take control of parliament after election of Socialist President Francois Hollande
- 2007: Right-wing UMP party (now renamed The Republicans) wins control after election of right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy.
- 2002: Right-wing parties win control after right-winger Jacques Chirac is elected president.
While the National Front's score has been steadily rising in presidential and other elections, its presence in parliament has remained minimal. When party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round of the 2002 presidential election, not a single National Front candidate won a seat in the parliamentary ballot that followed.
Compiled by Brian Love; Editing by Toby Davis