French left hopes to mount challenge to Macron in parliamentary polls

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France began voting in the first round of parliamentary elections on Sunday, with a resurgent and newly unified left seeking to thwart President Emmanuel Macron's plans for reform.

There are 6,300 contenders for the 577 seats in the lower house National Assembly in this two-round election., The shape of the new parliament will be clear only after the second round on 19 June.

Polls opened at 8:00 am in mainland France, voters in overseas territories having cast ballots earlier in the weekend.

After a dismal performance in the presidential election in April, the French left has united in a coalition for what its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has dubbed "the third round" of the presidential face-off.

Opinion polls show President Macron's centrist alliance and Mélenchon's coalition of hard left, Socialists, Communists and Greens neck-and-neck in the popular vote.

France's constituency-based parliamentary system, and the two-round election mean that the final seat breakdown will be another matter, and much will depend on voter turnout in the second round.

The abstention rate is predicted to be well over 50 percent in Sunday's first round, in what would be a new record for elections already marked by feeble participation in recent years.

The possibilty of 'cohabitation'

If the president's alliance retains an overall majority, Macron will be able to carry on governing as before.

A poor performance by the president's centrists could provoke messy bill-by-bill deals with right-wing parties in parliament or a cabinet reshuffle.

A majority for the left-wing alliance -- seen as unlikely by analysts but not impossible -- would be a disaster for Macron.

It would lead to "cohabitation" -- where the prime minister and president represent different political factions -- which has paralysed French politics in the past.

The magic number is 289 seats

Macron has warned the electorate against choosing "extremes" that would add "crisis to crisis".

"If the presidential election is crucial, the legislative election is decisive," he said on a visit to the rural Tarn region, calling for a "strong and clear majority".

Polls have indicated that Macron's alliance is likely to win the largest number of seats, but is by no means assured of getting over the line of 289 for an absolute majority.

Energy and food prices are soaring in France as elsewhere in Europe, the treatment of English fans at the Champions League final in Paris damaged France's image abroad and Macron has been accused by Ukraine of being too accommodating to Russia.

Ministers must win, or step down

Macron has made clear that ministers who are standing in the election -- including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who is making her first attempt at winning a seat -- will have to step down if they lose.

Macron's party and his allies currently hold an absolute majority of 345 seats.

Under France's system, a candidate needs over half the vote on the day as well as the backing of at least 25 percent of registered voters in a constituency to be elected outright in the first round.

Otherwise the top two candidates in a constituency, as well as any other candidate with the support of at least 12.5 percent of registered voters, go forward to the second round, where the candidate with the most votes wins.

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