Voting is under way in the first round of France's parliamentary elections, with recently elected President Francois Hollande seeking Socialist control of the National Assembly to push through his programme of reforms.
More than 6,500 candidates are standing for election to the 577-seat lower house of parliament in Sunday's vote which comes just weeks after Hollande defeated Nicolas Sarkozy to become France's first Socialist head of state since 1995.
The new lower house serves for the next five years, coinciding with Hollande's five-year term, and the results will determine whether the new president is able to rule unfettered as he seeks to reform Europe's second-largest economy.
The left already holds a majority in the upper house Senate, which is indirectly elected.
Hollande has pledged to steer France towards a growth-led recovery, and his election was hailed by critics of austerity measures across the eurozone.
The 57-year-old faces many challenges such as curbing rising unemployment and erasing a government overdraft without exposing voters to welfare cuts and Greek-style austerity.
The new French president needs parliamentary majority as he lobbies European leaders, chief among them German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the way to handle eurozone crisis.
Hollande wants a fiscal responsibility pact signed by Sarkozy to be reworked, arguing that it needs more pro-growth measures as opposed to Merkel’s austerity approach.
A majority in the assembly will help him in the implementation of his tax-and-spend programme.
Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's interim government has taken a series of popular steps, including cutting ministers' salaries by 30 per cent, vowing to reduce executive pay at state-owned firms and lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers.
But Sarkozy's UMP party has hit back with warnings that the Socialists are preparing huge tax rises to pay for what the right says is a fiscally irresponsible spending programme.
The economic backdrop is bleak for whoever wins the parliamentary vote, with unemployment at 10 per cent, stalled growth, and a resurgent eurozone crisis.
The vote will also be a litmus test for Marine Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front, after she won 18 per cent of votes in the first round of the May presidential election.
If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent in the first round, any contender with more than 12.5 per cent of the vote is allowed to stay in the race for the second round to be held on June 17.
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|William A. Cook|