International desk – The centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron looks on course to win a landslide victory following the first round of parliamentary elections.
Projections show La République en Marche (Republic on the Move) and its MoDem ally set to win up to 445 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.
The final outcome will be decided at a run-off next Sunday.
Macron’s party was established just over a year ago and many candidates have little or no political experience.
After disappointing results, traditional parties have urged voters to support the president’s rivals in the second round, to avoid him monopolising power.
With all the ballots counted, Macron’s LREM and MoDem won 32.3 per cent of the vote, according to BBC report.
The centre-right Republicans had 21.5 per cent, while the far-right National Front (FN) had 13.2 per cent, followed by the far-left France Unbowed on just over 11 per cent.
The Socialists, previously France’s ruling party, and their allies won just 9.5 per cent. Projections showed them losing up to 200 seats.
But turnout was sharply down, at 48.7 per cent compared with 57.2 per cent in the first round in 2012, which analysts said reflected a sense of resignation among Macron’s opponents.
Only four seats were settled on the first round. In the run-off vote next Sunday, the other seats will be disputed by the two top-placed contenders and any other candidate who won the support of at least 12.5 per cent of registered voters in the district.
The election took place amid heightened security after a series of devastating terror attacks in recent years.
François Baroin, head of the Republicans, said the low turnout testified to the “deep divisions in French society” and was “extremely worrying”.
FN leader Marine Le Pen blamed her party’s poor performance on the low turnout, saying France’s electoral system, which favours larger parties, needed to be reformed.
“This catastrophic abstention rate should raise the question of the voting rules which keep millions of our compatriots away from the polling stations,” she said.
Socialist leader Jean-Christophe Cambadélis lost his seat in the first round.
He warned voters against giving LREM an absolute majority next Sunday, saying it would result in “virtually no real opposition and we will have a National Assembly without any real counterbalance, without a democratic debate and not worthy of that name”.
Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who, like Macron, has a pro-EU stance – congratulated him on the “great success” of his party. It was a “vote for reforms”, tweeted (in German) her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.