France’s Hollande Aims to Build Parliamentary Majority

The socialist president could win a strong mandate to implement stimulus policies.

Newly-elected French president François Hollande aims to build a left-wing majority in parliamentary elections this and next Sunday. His Socialist Party could, for the first time in a decade, win an absolute majority in the lower house. It already controls the Senate.

Hollande defeated conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in last month’s presidential poll and has called for voters to give him a strong mandate to fund public-sector job creation and raise taxes to reduce France’s budget shortfall which is expected by the European Commission to be 4.2 percent of gross domestic product this year.

To woo left-wing and centrist voters, Hollande, in the weeks since he was elected, has announced a reduction in the pension age back to the age of sixty for some workers and repealed a rise in sales taxes. Sarkozy’s right-wing government had increased the pension age and value-added tax rate to reduce government spending and bring in more revenue.

To implement actual stimulus measures and cement his status as Europe’s champion against austerity, Hollande needs a cooperative parliament.

Opinion surveys conducted before the first round of voting on Sunday predicted that the Socialist Party, with its Green and far-left allies, would emerge with a majority.

Conservatives try to lure voters by warning of the detrimental effects of higher spending and higher taxes. Jean-François Copé, the leader of the Union pour un mouvement populaire, said the Socialists are preparing “the biggest ever tightening of the screws on the middle class.” Former premier François Fillon, who is seen as a possible successor to Nicolas Sarkozy, said that Hollande will “massively boost taxes” if he is given a majority.

Right-wing voters appear largely apathetic to the election however. Polls also suggest that up to 40 percent of French voters will not participate in the election at all. Dispirited by Sarkozy’s failure to win reelection and the rise of Marine Le Pen’s populist Front national on the far right, many traditional conservative voters are staying home.