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polls open in french legislative elections

Sunday June 10, 2012    3:50 AM

PARIS - French voters choose lawmakers for the lower house of parliament Sunday, in a poll that will determine whether new President Francois Hollande's Socialists or rival conservatives control the government.

The elections, followed by runoffs a week later, will also show whether Hollande can push his tax-the-rich, down-with-austerity agenda, and how much of a voice the far right will have in policies on immigration and Muslim practices.

At midday turnout was 21.06 percent, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry. That was slightly below the 22.56 percent who'd voted by midday in the first round of the last parliamentary elections in 2007. Most polling stations close at 1600 GMT, while those in Paris and other large cities close at 1800 GMT. The first results are expected shortly after the end of the voting.

The legislative race hasn't garnered nearly the headlines or drama of the presidential race in April and May, and many polls suggest turnout among France's 46 million voters could be around 40 percent far less than in Hollande's showdown with Nicolas Sarkozy.

The new lower house serves for the next five years coinciding with Hollande's five-year term.

Voters are choosing representatives for all 577 seats in the Assemblee Nationale representing mainland France and its overseas territories, from French Polynesia in the South Pacific to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

The Socialists and their allies are hoping to get at least 289 seats for a majority.

Candidates who win more than 50 percent in Sunday's first round win the seat outright. Many races go to a second round, involving any candidate who garners more than 12.5 percent of the registered voters in the first round.