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Sarkozy appears to lose control of French senate

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TEHRAN, Sept 26 (ICANA) – A coalition of conservative parties that support Nicolas Sarkozy appeared Sunday to have lost its majority in the upper house of France's parliament, a major political setback for the president eight months ahead of next year's presidential election.
Monday, September 26, 2011 2:24:13 PM
Sarkozy appears to lose control of French senate

The opposition Socialist Party, together with other left-leaning movements, won a large chunk of the 170 seats in the Senate that were up for re-election, according to preliminary results. Although balloting was still under way Sunday evening in some of France's overseas territories, the left, which hasn't dominated the Senate in the past 50 years, claimed it would control at least 175 seats in the 348-seat chamber.

"For the first time, the Senate will undergo a change of political power," said Jean-Pierre Bel, head of the Socialist group in the upper house. The ruling party of Sarkozy, the UMP, didn't challenge Mr. Bel's claim. "The left tide is real and stronger than I had anticipated," Senate Speaker Gérard Larcher, a UMP member, said in a speech. Government spokeswoman and Budget Minister Valérie Pécresse told RTL radio that she "regretted" a political defeat.

Although Sarkozy's ruling coalition has a majority in the lower house, the National Assembly, which has final say on new legislation, a hostile Senate, relying on filibuster tactics for example, could make it more difficult for the president to push through new policies.

In particular, Sarkozy's plan to enshrine budget discipline in France's bylaws, a constitutional change that requires support from three-fifths of all lawmakers, appears in jeopardy now that left-leaning parties that have opposed the measure control the Senate.

Sarkozy has said his proposed constitutional amendment was a key element of a wider effort aimed at convincing investors that France is resolute in its determination to improve its finances and deserves to retain its triple-A sovereign debt rating.

An antagonistic Senate could also complicate Mr. Sarkozy's plan to seek a second mandate in the spring 2012 presidential elections by providing the opposition with a powerful figure for the campaign. After Sunday's electoral success, the Socialist Party is well positioned to win the much-coveted position of Senate speaker.

Under France's 1958 constitution, the speaker replaces the president if the latter is incapacitated or leaves office, an event that has already occurred twice: in 1969 when Gen. Charles de Gaulle resigned as president, and in 1974 when President Georges Pompidou died in office.

The speaker also has important powers to nominate members of key government agencies. 

Senators are elected for a six-year mandate by a pool of "grand voters" formed mainly by local-government officials.

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