PARIS – President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party won a clear parliamentary majority Sunday in elections seen as crucial to his vision for opening up France's economy, although Socialists did far better than expected by capitalizing on fears of giving Sarkozy too much power.
Sarkozy's UMP party, with a projected majority of at least 50 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, will face little resistance to the rash of measures he plans to introduce within weeks to make France's sluggish economy more competitive and less protective.
But Sunday's legislative runoff suggests that voters in France, long driven by leftist ideals, wanted to send the hard-driving and U.S.-friendly Sarkozy a message that his powers are not absolute, and to keep their concerns in mind.
Some have even predicted mass street protests — like those that stymied former President Jacques Chirac's efforts to free up the economy — or an eruption of violence in France's housing projects if Sarkozy goes too far, too fast.
"The French showed they did not want to give all of the power to Nicolas Sarkozy," former Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou, a Socialist, said Sunday night.
With all but 36 seats left to call, Sarkozy's party and its allies had at least 330 National Assembly seats, and the left had least 206, according to the Interior Ministry. In percentage terms, the popular vote was even closer: with the Socialists and their allies getting around 49 percent, barely behind parties on the right. Turnout was at around 60 percent, near a record low.