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Thursday October 6th, 2022 7:33PM

France holds parliamentary election in vital test for Macron

By The Associated Press
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PARIS (AP) — French voters were choosing lawmakers in a parliamentary election Sunday as President Emmanuel Macron seeks to secure his centrist majority, which is under growing threat from a new leftist coalition.

More than 6,000 candidates, ranging from 18 to 92, were running for 577 seats in the National Assembly in the first round of the election. Those winning more than 50% of the vote will be elected on Sunday evening. In other cases, up to four candidates who get at least 12.5% support will advance to the decisive second round on June 19.

Consumer concerns about rising inflation have dominated the campaign but still voter enthusiasm has been muted. That was reflected in Sunday's turnout figure, which showed just over 39% of France's 48.7 million voters had cast ballots by 5 p.m., lower than the turnout five years ago.

Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who hopes the election may vault him into the prime minister's post, was among only a trickle of voters as he cast his ballot in Marseille, a southern port city.

On France's opposite coast, a small crowd gathered to watch Macron arrive to vote in the English Channel resort town of Le Touquet.

Following Macron’s reelection in May, his centrist coalition is seeking an absolute majority that would enable it to implement his campaign promises, which include tax cuts and raising France's retirement age from 62 to 65.

But the latest opinion polls suggest Macron and his allies may have trouble winning over half of the parliamentary seats. A government with a large but not absolute majority would still be able to rule, but would have to seek some support from opposition legislators.

The main opposition force appears to be Mélenchon's newly-created coalition made up of leftists, greens and communists. The coalition's platform includes a significant minimum wage increase, lowering the retirement age to 60 and locking in energy prices, which have been soaring due to the war in Ukraine.

Mélenchon, an anti-globalization firebrand who has called for France to pull out of NATO and “disobey” EU rules, urged voters to give his coalition a majority and thereby force Macron to name him as prime minister.

Alhough Mélenchon’s coalition could win more than 200 seats, current projections give the left little chance of winning a majority in the National Assembly. Macron and his allies are expected to win between 260 and 320 seats, according to the latest polls.

The National Assembly has final say over the Senate when it comes to voting in laws.

Even though Macron beat far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the presidential runoff, France's parliamentary election is traditionally a difficult race for the France's far-right candidates. Rivals from other parties tend to coordinate or step aside to boost chances of defeating far-right candidates in the second round.

The two-round voting system is complex and not proportionate to the nationwide support for a party. Lawmakers are elected by district.

Le Pen's far-right National Rally hopes to do better than five years ago, when it won eight seats. With at least 15 seats, the far right would be allowed to form a parliamentary group and gain greater powers at the assembly.

Le Pen herself is a candidate for reelection in her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, in northern France, where she cast her ballot Sunday.

Outside a voting station in a working-class district of Paris, voters debated whether to support Macron's party for the sake of smooth governance and keeping out extremist views, or to back his opponents to ensure that more political perspectives are heard.

“When you have a parliament that’s not completely in line with the government, that enables more interesting conversations and discussions," said Dominique Debarre, retired scientist. "But on the other hand, cohabitation is always in some way the sign of a failure."

Voters were also casting ballots in France's overseas territories. Final polling stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) with initial polling agency projections soon afterward.

___

Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris, Daniel Cole in Marseille and Alex Turnbull in Le Touquet, France contributed.

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