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French left wins stunning upset, exit polls show

election June 1, 1997
Web posted at: 2:48 p.m. EDT (1448 GMT)

PARIS (CNN) -- The Socialist-led opposition won an outright majority in French parliamentary elections Sunday, exit polls indicate. The victory would be a stunning upset over President Jacques Chirac's center-right coalition.

The Socialists and their allies won 289 seats, the exact number needed for a majority in the 577-seat National Assembly. Along with Communists and ecologists, the combined left won 333 seats, French television TF1 reported.

The center-right coalition won 243 seats, and the extreme right National Front Party won one seat, projections showed.

The center-right coalition held an 80 percent majority in the last parliament.

results

Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) throughout France and closed at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT). Official figures were expected later in the evening, but the television projections have proved accurate in the past.

'A new opportunity'

"For me these elections would be a new opportunity for France in the next century," one voter told CNN earlier.

Other voters were indifferent. Marc Morelli, 20, said it doesn't matter whether "you vote for the right or left, it always stays the same. Once they get in power, their promises are worth nothing."

The outcome of Sunday's runoff balloting was thrown wide open by last week's first round, which saw France's leftist opposition capitalize on voter discontent.

Only 12 seats were decided last week, with the left garnering about 40 percent of the vote compared to the center-right's 30 percent.

Chirac called the elections 10 months early in his search for a mandate for his economic austerity program.

jospin

But with the jobless rate at a record high 12.8 percent, unemployment was a key concern among voters, many of whom are wary of Chirac's austerity plan. The president has been driving France to meet strict criteria to join the euro, the European currency to start circulating in 1999.

Power-sharing looms

In the campaign's final days, Chirac's governing coalition had sought to soften its line on cutting the deficit to qualify for the euro while still reducing unemployment.

Chirac scrambled to turn the tide after last Sunday's first round. The president jettisoned Premier Alain Juppe, France's most unpopular prime minister since the 1950s. Philippe Seguin, the popular and somewhat euroskeptic National Assembly president, had been touted as the likely prime minister should the right win.

If the projected results hold true, however, Chirac will be forced to "cohabit," or share power, with a hostile government led by Socialist leader Lionel Jospin.

 
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