Turnout will decide size of French right's victory

 

French President Mr Jacques Chirac's centre-right allies were heading for a resounding victory in tomorrow’s election, in spite of pleas from the shattered left to supporters who sat out the first round a week ago.

Opinion polls pointed to the biggest conservative victory since 1993, which would bring to and end two months of drama in French politics.

The electorate flirted with Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in April's presidential election - raising the prospect of a swing to the far-right similar to those seen in Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium - but in the end scrambled back to traditional middle ground or simply spurned the ballot box in droves.

The surprise in tmorrow’s vote may well be the size of the right-wing majority.

If enough of the 35.6 per cent that abstained in last Sunday's first round cast ballots this time, and if far-right supporters back a mainstream party, they could radically shift the balance, promising a suspense-packed finale.

In the last legislative election in 1997, the abstention rate fell to 28.5 percent in the second round from 31.5 percent in the first. Left-wing politicans have spent the past week pleading with voters to come out and restore the left-right balance.

But bad weather, gloom over France's exit from the soccer World Cup and a slump in Paris stocks to nine-month lows on Friday will not make people any keener to get out and vote for the fourth time in two months.