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Polls open in French legislative elections

POLLS OPEN IN FRENCH LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS

Millions of French voters started casting ballots in the first round of decisive legislative elections.

French voters are set to cast ballots Sunday in the first round of decisive legislative elections likely to bring sweeping changes to the country's political landscape.

Nearly 47 million registered voters will elect 577 members for a five-year term in the National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of parliament.

Newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche! (LREM) political movement is estimated to be headed to a clear majority win which he needs in order to get his reform bills passed.

A total of 7,882 candidates are standing for the election, with 11 representing the country's 1.3 million expatriates. Overseas voters have already overwhelmingly backed Macron, with LREM winning 10 of the 11 seats.

To win in the first round, candidates need to secure an absolute majority and support from at least one-quarter of the district's registered voters. Short of that, those who receive at least 12.5 percent of votes will advance to a run-off June 18.

The Senate, the upper house, will be elected by an electoral college Sept. 24.

Despite an investigation into the financial dealings of two of Macron's Cabinet ministers, his political movement is seen as securing 370 - 400 seats, well beyond the 289 necessary for an absolute majority, according to several opinion polls.

The conservative Republicans and their allies are predicted to win between 120 and 150 seats.

The center-left Socialists may win just 15 - 25 seats and Jean-Luc Melenchon's left-wing La France insoumise (Unbowed France) party could take between 12 and 22.

The far-right National Front of recently defeated presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is predicted to return between eight to 18 lawmakers.

Five to 10 seats could be claimed by other candidates.

Turnout in the first round is estimated to be 54 percent. If that number holds, it would be an historic low. In the last legislative elections in 2012, turnout was 57 percent in the first round.

A Macron victory on this scale would be the biggest majority in France since Charles de Gaulle's landslide win in 1968.

Polls close at 8 p.m. local time (0600 GMT) in large towns and first estimates will follow.

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