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Record Number of Candidates Running in French Elections - 2002-05-20

Campaigning officially started Monday for France's parliamentary elections, with a record number of contenders for National Assembly seats. The two-round election in June will determine if President Jacques Chirac will have a governing majority.

More than 8,400 candidates, from the far left to the far right, are officially entered in the legislative campaign - 2,000 more than in the last election five years ago. They are competing for 577 National Assembly seats in voting that takes place on June 9 and 16.

On the conservative side, the coalition Union for the Presidential Majority, backing newly reelected French President Jacques Chirac, is running more than 530 candidates. A coalition of leftist parties is backing 170 candidates. More than 560 candidates are members of the far-right National Front Party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who lost to Mr. Chirac in the presidential run-off election earlier this month. Several hundred candidates belong to a collection of other parties, from the far left to the center-right.

More than 38 percent of the candidates are women.

The outcome of the legislative elections will determine whether Mr. Chirac can assemble a majority in parliament to push through his agenda and to keep his newly appointed government.

French politics for years has been dominated by uneasy coalition governments, with a president from one party and a prime minister and government from another. During much of his first term as president, Mr. Chirac had to contend with a leftist government headed by a Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin.

Recent polls suggest French voters are fed up with coalition governments. Some surveys indicate that conservative candidates this time may have a slight edge over the left.

But such surveys are often flawed. Experts say it is possible the left - whose candidate, Mr. Jospin, lost the presidential election - may rebound in the legislative voting. Polls also suggest the far right may gain up to 14 percent of the vote in the June elections.