By Layli Foroudi
PARIS (Reuters) -President Emmanuel Macron's bloc has come out on top in most of the constituencies of French voters overseas who went to the polls ahead of the rest of France, but with a stronger challenge from the left compared to 2017.
Eleven seats out of 577 in parliament are reserved for geographical zones where French citizens live abroad, such as one for those in Canada and the United States and another for Central and Eastern Europe.
While a small number of seats, the first round elections this weekend were the first time the left-wing coalition NUPES led by hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon had faced voters as an alliance since Macron was re-elected in April and showed the challenge it may pose across the country.
An IFOP poll showed for the first time last week that Macron's "Ensemble" may fall short of an absolute majority in parliament, potentially complicating his second term agenda.
"Ensemble" won the largest number of votes this weekend in eight consistencies, while NUPES was ahead in two.
Nine out of the 11 constituencies will see a second round run-off between Ensemble and NUPES, an improved performance for the left from 2017, when it qualified for the second round in five constituencies, thanks to the unprecedented alliance formed by the left-wing parties to challenge the presidential majority.
Voters in France will cast their ballots in two rounds on June 12 and 19. The overseas second rounds will take place on June 18-19.
Asked whether he we was worried about the challenge presented by the united left, Minister of Transformation and Public Service Stanislas Guerini told FranceInfo he was not scared but "maybe we need to go a bit harder, we need to create stakes in this election".
Jean-Yves Dormagen, a political scientist at the University of Montpellier, told Reuters the weekend's results supported the idea of Macron falling short of a majority and showed that the left-wing alliance functions well.
"This is the first time that the coalition has been tested in an election - we are headed for a duel between Ensemble and NUPES," he said, noting that leftist votes from the first round of April's presidential election had transferred to NUPES.
Overseas voters tend to be educated and well-off, social profiles that are favourable to Macron, he added.
The only candidate backed by Macron who did not make it through to the second round was Manuel Valls, a former Socialist prime minister, who ran in the Iberian peninsula constituency, covering Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Monaco.
Macron backed Valls at the expense of his 2017 candidate, Stéphane Vojetta, who went onto run a dissident campaign against Valls and won to face the left-wing candidate in the run-off.
The IFOP poll showed Ensemble winning 270-310 seats in the second round, and gave NUPES 170-205 seats. On the right, Les Republicains were forecast to get 35-55 seats and the far-right Rassemblement Nationale was projected to win 20-50.
An absolute majority requires a minimum of 289 seats in parliament.
Melenchon, with proposals to lower the retirement age, raise the minimum wage and offer more social and environmental protections, casts Macron as a liberal who will further unwind workers' rights and serve the interests of the rich.
If Macron wins the legislature, he has said his government's priorities will include action to combat climate change and raising the retirement age.
(Reporting by Layli Foroudi;Editing by Alison Williams)