The key number to watch as returns come in is 289 — that’s the number of seats that President François Hollande’s Parti socialiste (and its allies) will need in order to hold an absolute majority in the Assemblée nationale. In the first round last Sunday, the Parti socialiste won 29% to just 27% for the center-right’s Union pour un mouvement populaire — the broad left expected to line up behind Hollande, however, received almost 47% of the vote. As such, it is expected that the French left will command a majority of the seats after Sunday’s runoff — the question is whether the Socialists will need to govern in coalition with France’s Green Party (Europe Écologie – Les Verts), with which the Parti socialiste has an electoral pact or, more broadly, with the far-left Front de gauche.
But there are many individual races worth watching as well. So without further ado, here are 15 races to keep an eye on:
- Charente-Maritime 17. This is the race that has kept the French media abuzz for the past week, as Ségolène Royal won the first round with just 32% to 29% for the local unaffiliated socialist candidate, Olivier Falorni. The UMP candidate won 20%, but did not qualify for the runoff. Royal, Hollande’s former partner and the mother of his children, is one of the most charismatic politicians in France and, of course, the Parti socialiste‘s presidential candidate in 2007. Royal was expected to do much better, and it had been predicted that she would, in fact, be Hollande’s choice as president of the Assemblée nationale. Indeed, everyone from prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to Parti socialiste president Martine Aubry have called on Falorni to step aside, and Hollande even personally endorsed Royal — Falorni has refused, and a poll earlier this week showed Falorni with 58% support in the runoff to just 42% for Royal. But the race became even more explosive when Hollande’s current partner, Valérie Trierweiler, expressed her support for Falorni on Twitter, setting off a media firestorm about Trierweiler’s motives and the propriety of her very personal intrusion into politics. No matter who wins, this race has already caused Hollande significant harm, dredging up some of the worst memories of the personal love life of former president Nicolas Sarkozy that French voters found so distasteful.
- Pas-de-Calais 11. This is the race that had previously been the most-watched race prior to the first round — hard-right Front national leader Marine Le Pen chose this Hénin-Beaumont constituency in northern France as a showcase of her party’s message of economic populism. Far-left Front de gauche leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon chose to contest her in the same district, setting up a direct battle between two of the most iconic figures on the French political scene: Le Pen and Mélenchon were the third-place and fourth-place finishers in the first round of April’s presidential election. Le Pen won the first round with an impressive 42%, while the local Parti socialiste candidate Philippe Kemel finished in second place with 23.5%, edging out Mélenchon with just 21.5%. Mélenchon withdrew from the runoff in favor of Kemel, who is now a slight favorite to win. If Le Pen pulls off a victory here, though, it will be a significant sign of strength for the Front national, which is hoping to win its first seat in the parliament since the 1997 election, and could win a handful of seats across France.
- Pyrénées-Atlantiques 2. François Bayrou, leader of the centrist Mouvement démocrate, and the fifth-place winner in April’s presidential contest, is fighting for his political life in this race. He has held the seat since 1988, but often with the support of the UMP in prior elections. In the first round, he won just 24%. Parti socialiste candidate Nathalie Chabanne won 35%, and the UMP’s candidate Eric Saubatte won 22%. Saubatte is not expected to withdraw from the traingulaire runoff (the UMP is angry that Bayrou endorsed Hollande in the presidential runoff versus Sarkozy), and it is expected that Bayrou will lose, depriving the MoDem of one of its two seats in the national assembly.
- Doubs 4. While Ayrault and foreign minister Laurent Fabius won their seats outright in the first round, finance minister Pierre Moscovici fell just short of an outright majority, winning just 41% to 24% for FN candidate Sophie Montel and 23% for Charles Demouge. Moscovici should win the triangulaire runoff, however, quite easily.
- Bouches-du-Rhône 5. In this district, Marie-Arlette Carlotti, junior minister for the disabled in Hollande’s government, won 34% in the first round to just 32.5% for the UMP incumbent, Renaud Muselier. The Front national polled 16%, but did not make it into the runoff, potentially consolidating the right-wing vote behind the UMP. Hollande has said that ministers who lose their seats will not continue in their roles as ministers — Carlotti is therefore fighting not only for her seat, but her minister post as well.
- Vosges 2. Jack Lang, minister of culture during the 1980s and early 1990s under former president François Mitterand is running against Gérard Cherpion for this seat. Lang won 37.5o% in the first round to 35.35% for Cherpion — the Front national polled 17%, but as with Carlotti’s race, it did not qualify for the runoff, and Lang cannot benefit from vote-splitting on the right in the second round.
- Pyrénées-Atlantiques 6. Former Sarkozy foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie is fighting for her career in this seat — she finished first with 35% to just 32% for Sylviane Alaux. Although it will be a direct UMP-PS runoff, Alaux is expected to benefit from nearly 10% of the vote that went to Basque nationalists in the first round, as well as another 7% that went to the Front de gauche and the Greens. Alliot-Marie served as minister of the interior and justice minister for Sarkozy, and served as foreign minister from 2010 to 2011, until she resigned during the Tunisian revolution in the aftermath of criticism of going to Tunisia for vacation as the protests there were beginning, her coziness to ousted dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and comments indicating that French riot police could help restore order in favor of Ben Ali.
- Essonne 4. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, spokesperson for the Sarkozy campaign and a former minister of ecology, won just 39.5% in this race to 36% for the Parti socialiste candidate Olivier Thomas. The Front national won 11.5% in the first round, and so their supporters could theoretically deliver victory to Kosciusko-Morizet, but the Front national has called specifically for the ouster of Kosciusko-Morizet, even at the expense of electing Thomas.
- Meurthe-et-Moselle 5. Nadine Morano, another endangered UMP incumbent, lost the first round to the PS candidate Dominique Potier, who took 39% to Morano’s 34%. In contrast to Kosciusko-Morizet’s race, Morano has gone out her way to woo the Front national, which won 16.5% in the first round, but narrowly avoided making the runoff. Morano, who is outspokenly conservative, has attacked gay pride festivals, rejects contraception and condoms, and has made disparaging comments about minorities in the banlieue.
- Aisne 2. Xavier Bertrand, a former minister of health and labour who served as the spokesperson for Sarkozy’s campaign in 2007, won 39% in the first round to just 36% for the Parti socialist‘s Anne Ferreira. The Front national has also called for Bertrand’s ouster, which means that he cannot necessarily count on the Front national‘s voters — the FN candidate won 16% in the first round.
- Bouches-du-Rhône 13. In one of the few highlights for the far left in the first round, Gaby Charroux, the Communist mayor of Martigues, won 27% to just 25% for the PS candidate, René Raimondi. Raimondi will step down in favor of Charroux, who will face the Front national‘s Béatrix Espallardo, who won 22% in the first round. Charroux is the strong favorite, even if Espallardo manages to win over the 15% of first-round voters who supported the UMP candidate.
- Vaucluse 3. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who is 22 and the granddaughter of former Front national leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and the niece of current leader Marine Le Pen, won the first round in this Provençal district with 35% to just 30% for the UMP’s Jean-Michel Ferrand and 22% for the Parti socialiste‘s Catherine Arkilovitch. The PS candidate has not stepped down, however, which makes it likely that Maréchal-Le Pen will win on Sunday.
- Gard 2. In another southeastern constituency, the Front national‘s Gilbert Collard won 34.5% in the first round to 33% for the Parti socialiste‘s Katy Guyot and 24% for the UMP incumbent, Etienne Mourrut. In a blow to Collard, Mourrut has decided to participate in the triangulaire runoff, which will split votes between the two right-wing candidates, making Guyot a narrow favorite.
- Nord 21. Jean-Louis Borloo, the leader of the Radical Party and a minister in past UMP governments (the Radicals are a UMP ally) won 43% in the first round to just 24% for Fabien Thiémé, the Front de gauche candidate. Borloo is a narrow favorite — the Green candidate won 17% in the first round and the Front national won 14%. Borloo quit Sarkozy’s government in 2011 in opposition to his rightward swing and was briefly a candidate for president in 2012.
- Pyrénées-Atlantiques 4. The MoDem’s only other incumbent, Jean Lasalle, won only 26% in the first round in this constituency, narrowly trailing the Parti socialiste‘s François Maitia. He is likely to pick up much of the support of the UMP’s candidate, which took 17.5%, as Lasalle backed Sarkozy over Hollande.