PARIS: France's right-wing opposition were on Sunday set to extend their historic domination of the upper house Senate in elections, marking another electoral setback for the ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron.
Unlike the lower house National Assembly, the Senate is not elected by direct universal suffrage but by around 150,000 voters known as "grands electeurs" who include elected regional and national officials.
As such, this electoral college represents a reflection of the results of local elections where Macron's Renaissance party -- only founded for his 2017 presidential campaign and lacking grass roots -- has consistently performed badly.
Only half the Senate is elected at any one time and Sunday's elections see 170 of the 348 seats up for grabs for a six year mandate. The last such polls were three years ago, In 2026 the other 178 seats will be voted for.
With the biggest party the right-wing Republicans followed by the Socialists, the composition of the Senate is a throwback to traditional French politics up until the last decade, since when presidential elections have been dominated by the centrist Macron, hard-left and far-right.
The results of Sunday's voting were coming in throughout the evening, with early indications showing a trend towards incumbent senators keeping their seats, indicating the Republicans would likely remain the largest faction followed by the Socialists.
While it has some authority especially over constitutional issues, the Senate lacks the power of the National Assembly lower house. However an uncooperative Senate can cause considerable problems for the government.
The right has controlled the Senate in recent years, except for a 2011-2014 interlude when it went to the Socialists.
Macron's party lost its overall majority in the National Assembly in 2022 parliamentary elections and has rammed through a string of laws -- including a controversial pension reform -- using a controversial article that allows bills to pass without a vote.
In one major early embarrassment for Macron's faction, Sonia Backes, the state secretary for citizen issues and the only minister standing lost her seat in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia to pro-independence candidate Robert Xowie.
Senate speaker Gerard Larcher of the Republicans is expected to remain in his job --- which last week saw the 74-year-old welcome the UK's King Charles III to the Senate -- by winning a sixth consecutive mandate.
"In the difficult and unstable political times that we are experiencing, stability is already a great victory," said Bruno Retailleau, the head of the Republicans group in the Senate.