Sarkozy, Allies Hold Majority, Lose Seats

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 18, 2007

PARIS, June 17 -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling party won a majority in parliamentary runoff elections Sunday, but Socialists -- contrary to all poll predictions -- gained more seats than they had held in the previous assembly, foreshadowing tough battles ahead for the new government's proposals.

Leftist candidates appeared to be boosted by public fears about Sarkozy's reform efforts, including an announcement last week of a plan to raise sales taxes, and by a low turnout of Sarkozy voters anticipating a runaway sweep of the National Assembly.

Final results from the Interior Ministry showed the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, or UMP, and its allies on the right with 346 of the 577 parliamentary seats; the Socialist and leftist parties with 226; the centrist Democratic Movement, or MoDem, party with three seats; and other independent parties with two seats. Sarkozy's party won 314 seats, a loss of 45 seats, while the Socialists won 185 seats, a gain of 36 members, according to the Interior Ministry's final figures.

Prime Minister François Fillon, in a televised address minutes after the polls closed Sunday night, conceded that the results indicated wariness and said of voters, "Their disappointment obliges us to listen to what they have to say."

But Fillon also said the new government's majority in the National Assembly "validates our plan to modernize France," adding, "We will renovate our country, experiment with new ideas, enhance work and merit, encourage talent and innovation and get rid of the defeatism that has suffocated the Republic."

After the results were announced, Socialist Party leader François Hollande said: "By voting this way, our fellow citizens intended to install a parliamentary counterweight to the new power. The Socialist Party has recovered beyond our wildest expectations."

Although the ruling party has the majority it needs to pass bills in Parliament, the Socialists' strong showing will force Sarkozy to court the left and meet many of its supporters' concerns.

"There is a clear difference with having a majority in Parliament and a majority on the street," said Jérôme Fourquet, a director of the IFOP polling agency. "It's not easy to reform France. The right has a majority, but they know they need to be cautious if they don't want to create social unrest."

Election day also brought dramatic personal news in the Socialist camp: Party leader Hollande and defeated presidential candidate Ségolène Royale have ended their 25-year common-law marriage, Royal confirmed in an interview on French radio Sunday night.

"Quite simply, we have decided not to be together anymore," she said. "Like all couples, we have had our share of problems. I decided to put these problems on hold during the presidential and the legislative campaigns. Today we are moving on to a new stage. It is important to say things as they are, and to have everything out in the open."

The French news media have for months reported rumors of a split, some of them emerging in campaign-trail barbs. The couple has four children.

Royale made her comments after French newspaper Web sites published excerpts from a book by two French journalists that is to be released this week.

In interviews for the book, Royal accused Hollande of having an affair, according to the Web sites.

"I have asked François Hollande to leave our home, to pursue his love interest, which is now laid out in books and newspapers, and I wish him happiness," Royal is quoted as saying. "We are on good terms, we talk to each other, there is mutual respect."

But the day also ended with embarrassing news for Sarkozy and the UMP. Alain Juppé, a former prime minister whom Sarkozy had appointed environment minister and made the second-highest-ranking member of his cabinet, resigned Sunday after losing his race for Parliament. Sarkozy's cabinet ministers were appointed on the condition that they win their local races. Juppé lost in Bordeaux to Socialist Michèle Delaunay by two percentage points.

Juppé had been in political exile after his conviction in a political financial scandal.

Sarkozy has said he will launch his program for reinvigorating the economy and restoring national self-esteem in a special parliamentary session beginning June 26. He has vowed to take on such sacred cows as labor unions, universities and the 35-hour workweek.

Researcher Corinne Gavard contributed to this report.

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