French President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right allies were headed for a parliamentary landslide after a first round legislative election on Sunday, bolstering his chances of implementing wide-ranging reforms.
A jubilant right said voters had decided to give Sarkozy the tools to carry out his pledge to boost growth, cut taxes and slash unemployment, but the left and centrists said a crushing right-wing majority was unhealthy and threatened democracy.
Abstention looked set to hit a record of about 39 percent, against just 16 percent in the presidential election, reflecting deep voter fatigue after months of electioneering and a widespread feeling the centre-right was certain to win.
Pollster CSA said Sarkozy's bloc would win 440-470 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly lower house after a second round of voting on June 17. IPSOS Dell pollsters saw the centre-right taking 383-447 seats against 120-170 for the mainstream left.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who won his seat outright on Sunday, said voters had given a "beautiful lead" to Sarkozy's allies, but warned that the job was only half done.
"Everything will really be decided next Sunday. That is why all the French will have to go and vote. Change is under way," said Fillon, whose UMP party was set to become the first in France to hold onto power in an election since 1978.
CSA gave the opposition Socialists, in disarray since May's third straight loss in presidential elections, just 60-90 seats compared to the 149 seats the party won in 2002 elections.
Senior Socialists appealed to voters to turn out en masse next week in a bid to stem the conservative "blue tide" that risked submerging the opposition in parliament.
"Come and vote, come for yourself, come for democracy, come for the Republic, come for France, come for social justice and come to help us reconstruct a new left," urged Socialist Segolene Royal, who remains popular despite losing out to Sarkozy in the May presidential elections.
EXTREMISTS LOSE OUT
Among the big losers on Sunday were parties at both ends of the political spectrum.
The far-right National Front saw its vote halved to under 5 percent, with no seats in view, while the Communists suffered their worst parliamentary performance in postwar history, taking 5 percent of the vote, which could give between 6-13 seats
Former leftist finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the right risked emerging too powerful from the vote. "In the Assembly, having 400, 450 right-wing deputies and a small number of left-wing deputies makes democratic debate impossible."
The Socialist campaign was dogged by infighting and finger-pointing after the defeat of Royal. She has indicated she would like to take over as Socialist party leader but remains a controversial figure within the left.
Francois Bayrou, the centrist who polled a strong third in last month's presidential vote, saw his support slump and said France's winner-takes-all system distorted democracy.
"France will regret this imbalance one day or another," said Bayrou, whose rebaptized Democratic Movement polled around 7 percent nationally and is expected to win 1-4 seats. The centrist won 18.6 percent in the presidential ballot.
Eleven government members were standing for election and Fillon has ruled they will have to quit if they lose.
Like Fillon, a number of government ministers were elected outright on Sunday, including Economy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, Labour and Social Affairs Minister Xavier Bertrand and Defence Minister Herve Morin.
Government number two Alain Juppe, who had faced potentially the most difficult ballot, appeared well placed for a run-off in his Bordeaux fiefdom.
(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer, Swaha Pattanaik and Francois Murphy)