PARIS (AP) — Leftist candidates led the first round of France's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to polling agencies and partial official results, in a vote that is crucial to President Francois Hollande's Socialist agenda.
Hollande needs leftists to take control of the lower house of parliament — currently dominated by conservatives — to carry out his plans to redirect France's economy, with repercussions around debt-laden Europe. Conservatives said the Socialists' spending plans could cripple France just as it and other European countries are being asked to rescue Spain.
Based on Sunday's first round, polling agencies predict that Socialists and other leftists will take a majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly in the decisive second round June 17.
Four polling agencies' projections and early official results show diminished support for former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party across the country. They show growing support for the left, amid anger at cost-cutting austerity measures and reforms under Sarkozy seen by some as too friendly to the rich.
"It's a good result tonight ... but we have to remain mobilized for the second round," said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, an influential Socialist.
Socialists or other leftists were leading in 70 of 116 districts where the vote count was complete Sunday evening, according to official results. The Interior Ministry is releasing results gradually through the night, district by district.
The CSA and TNS-Sofres polling agencies predicted that leftists would take between 300 and 366 seats in the next parliament, and the conservatives between 210 and 270 seats.
Polling agencies CSA, TNS-Sofres, Ipsos and Ifop estimated that Socialists and other leftists won between 43 percent and 48 percent of the nationwide vote, while UMP candidates and their allies won between 34 percent and 35 percent.
The polling agency projections are based on actual vote results in select polling stations nationwide, and were largely in line with expectations.
Turnout was relatively low, at 57 percent, well below the 63 percent in the last parliamentary elections five years ago.
Candidates of Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party were projected to win between 13 percent and 14 percent of the vote in the first round.
However, the polling agencies predicted that the National Front would only get up to three members of parliament. That's because of a stigma against a party whose founder —Marine's father Jean-Marie Le Pen — has been convicted of racism and anti-Semitism. Marine Le Pen said she came in first in the northern district where she is seeking a seat, but faces a tough runoff against a Socialist.