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France's Sarkozy seen winning pro-reform parliament

PARIS (Reuters) - Campaigning for the French parliamentary elections began on Monday with polls suggesting President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party will secure a strong majority for reforms and the left will get a fresh electoral drubbing.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands as he arrives at the Bregancon Presidential residence on the French Riviera, May 18, 2007. Campaigning for the French parliamentary elections began on Monday with polls suggesting President Sarkozy's party will secure a strong majority for reforms and the left will get a fresh electoral drubbing. REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson

Sarkozy has promised to forge ahead with reforms but the right-winger cannot act until after the June 10 and 17 parliamentary polls when he is expected to call a special summer session to pass his first measures.

The new president appointed leftists to some key positions in the government he unveiled on Friday, a move designed to portray him as an open and inclusive leader and boost the right’s support in the looming legislative battle.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon is spearheading the conservatives’ campaign and met senior figures in the ruling UMP party on Monday to discuss strategy. He is one of around a dozen government members contesting a seat.

“Of course we want to have a large, diverse majority. The president and the prime minister want a majority to support the government’s actions and to allow reforms,” UMP spokesman Luc Chatel said at a press briefing after the meeting.

The group plans to meet every Tuesday with Fillon, who will travel to Marseille on Wednesday for a major UMP rally ahead of the legislative vote.

The Socialists, in disarray since the defeat of their presidential candidate Segolene Royal in a May 6 presidential run-off, have urged voters to give them a large block in parliament that can force Sarkozy to tone down his program.

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LARGE MAJORITY

According to a TNS-Sofres survey carried out for Le Figaro newspaper, most French people approved of Sarkozy’s cabinet line-up and this was likely to translate into gains for his party in parliament.

The poll said that 40 percent of French would vote for the ruling UMP candidate in their district in the first round of the election on June 10 compared to 28 percent for the candidate of the main opposition Socialist party.

That would give Sarkozy’s party between 365 and 415 seats in the 577-member parliament, up from the 359 places it currently holds with allies and a comfortable majority that would allow him to push ahead with tricky pension and labor market reforms.

The poll showed the opposition Socialists would get between 137 and 153 seats compared to the 149 seats it and its allies currently hold.

Centrist Francois Bayrou’s new Democratic Movement would get between 2 and 10 seats -- his UDF party, which is changing names, held 29 seats in the outgoing parliament.

The Socialists are struggling to paper over party divisions that have burst into the open following Royal’s defeat, and some party stalwarts urged colleagues to leave discussions of internal problems until after the vote.

“There are lots of problems at the heart of the Socialist party, but I am in favor of dealing with these after the legislative elections, because if we don’t, we are going to have a completely pathetic performance,” former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius said on LCI television.

Additional reporting by Jon Boyle and Sophie Louet

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