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Chirac's Center-Right Wins First Round in French Elections


French President Jacques Chirac's right-of-center coalition has won a convincing victory in the first round of the country's parliamentary elections. The center-right, which won 43 percent of the vote, is expected to have a large majority in the National Assembly after run-off elections next Sunday. The moderate right's success came in part at the expense of the extreme right.

The extreme right National Front, whose presidential candidate, Jean Marie Le Pen, finished second in the last election, did much more poorly this time. Though it received 11 percent of the vote, the National Front will have run off candidates in only 37 of the assembly's 577 districts, and it is projected to win no more than two seats.

The coalition that supports President Jacques Chirac is projected to win as many as 400 seats. That would emphatically end Socialist control of the parliament and five years of power sharing that many voters think has caused political stagnation.

Many people are so exasperated by the political situation - or so distracted by the World Cup - they didn't bother to vote. The percentage of absentee voters - 35 percent - was larger than the vote for any one party.

Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin said the participation levels were much too low and appealed for a massive mobilization of voters for next Sunday's election.

No matter what the size of the turnout, the moderate right should get the parliamentary majority that will give President Chirac what he says he wants: A chance to implement the right's agenda which includes measures to fight crime as well as a large tax cut.

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