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France Holds Parliamentary Election

June 9, 2002

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PARIS (AP) _ Voters were making a preliminary choice Sunday between France’s invigorated conservatives and its squabbling leftists amid signs the apathy that helped an extremist qualify for a presidential run-off last month might be returning.

The first round of legislative elections will be followed by a second and decisive round next Sunday.

In the first round of the presidential contest in April, voter indifference led to a record-low 72 percent turnout that helped extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen make the runoff against conservative President Jacques Chirac.

Le Pen’s success frightened millions of French people, and Chirac was re-elected with a record 82 percent of the vote on May 5, with turnout a more robust 80 percent.

But ahead of the legislative race, media predictions were that apathy might set in again _ especially after the emotional presidential race only a month ago.

In cafes and bistros, many French had their minds on the poor performance of Les Bleus _ the French national soccer team _ than on the vote. The defending World Cup champions are on the cusp of elimination after failing to win their first two matches in this year’s tournament.

``Everybody’s more interested in soccer than in the elections,″ said Marina Boyer, 52, a Paris cafe owner. ``No one has been talking about the elections _ not a single word about them this week.″

Chirac’s conservatives have been emboldened by recent opinion polls showing they’re likely to win a majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, Parliament’s lower house.

The left, which ran the government for most of the last five years under Socialist leadership, is fighting for its life on the national political scene.

The Socialists have been struggling since Lionel Jospin, the former prime minister, quit politics after his humiliating loss to Le Pen in the first round of the presidential election.

Chirac appointed little-known former businessman Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a conservative, to take over as prime minister, and voter surveys indicate that he enjoys broad support.

But many fear Le Pen’s National Front could play the arbiter in the legislative race, by tempting mainstream candidates to strike deals with the party in order to win in the second round.

Still, leaders of the mainstream parties have said that one benefit to Le Pen’s strong showing in the presidential vote _was that it mobilized apathetic voters.

Parties across the political spectrum have reported a surge in membership applications since Le Pen’s surprising success. Both left and right hope the anti-Le Pen enthusiasm will draw voters to the polls on Sunday.

``I think people will turn out this time around,″ said Fabien Ansel, 30, as he distributed fliers in Paris on Saturday promoting a Socialist-Green Party coalition. ``People now see that their votes count.″

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