Chirac's Conservatives favored as French campaigning ends
First-round parliamentary voting is Sunday
May 23, 1997
Web posted at: 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- French parliamentary candidates wooed a large
block of undecided voters Friday in the final hours of
campaigning, amid expectations that President Jacques
Chirac's conservative forces can withstand an assault from
The country's 40 million voters will cast ballots Sunday in
the first round of a two-stage election. More than 6,200
candidates are vying for 577 seats in the National Assembly.
In races where no candidate wins a majority, runoffs will be
held June 1.
Under French law, campaigning will not be allowed Saturday,
the day before balloting.
Chirac, whose conservative coalition controlled 80 percent of
the seats in the last parliament, called the election 10
months before constitutionally necessary -- and before the
imposition of tough austerity measures needed for France to
qualify for the single European currency in 1999.
"I think the main reasons for having called this strange
election are really technical reasons," political analyst
Olivier Duhamel said. "[Chirac] thought he would get a better
result in 1997 than if he waited until 1998."
Voter disenchantment, cynicism remain high
Despite a pounding from Socialists on the left and the
National Front on the far right during the 33-day campaign,
the conservatives are favored to retain their majority.
But voter disenchantment and cynicism in France runs deep,
with as many as 40 percent of voters telling pollsters they
had either not decided for whom they would vote or would not
vote at all.
A campaign with lackluster candidates largely orchestrated
through advertising -- described by one observer as being
simultaneously too quick and yet interminable -- didn't lift
the voters' mood. One ad agency was advising its candidate
clients on both sides of the political aisle to stress
"change," whether they were really offering any or not.
"You have to say that you are different, that your program is
different and that you're going to do things differently,"
said advertising executive Laurent Habib.
Juppe undecided about his post
On Friday, conservative Prime Minister Alain Juppe, the
favorite target of the opposition because of his failure to
cut France's stubbornly high unemployment, said he hasn't
decided whether to remain in his post after the election.
Juppe's comment was seen as a last-minute offer to sacrifice
himself, if necessary, for the conservative cause.
Also Friday, in an outbreak of violence rare in French
campaigns, a National Front leader's bodyguards clashed with
human rights activists in the southern town of Vitrolles,
which is controlled by the far-right, anti-immigrant party.
The bodyguards were accused of firing tear gas at the
At a rally in Paris, the National Front's leader, Jean-Marie
Le Pen, attacked Chirac for not moving France more forcefully
into the future, saying the country was losing its standing
in the modern world.
'It's Chirassic Park'
"Today, France, with such a dinosaur ... it's Chirassic
Park," said Le Pen.
The Socialists, led by Lionel Jospin, are the strongest force
arrayed against the governing conservative coalition. But
even Jospin's pledge to cut the French work week from 39 to
35 hours without loss of pay and to create 700,000 jobs
hasn't allowed him to catch on with voters.
His supporters hope his reputation for consistency and
sincerity will allow Socialists to defy poll predictions, as
they did in the 1995 presidential election when Jospin
captured a surprising 48 percent of the vote in the second
Chirac, however, won that election. And unless there is an
upset, his election gamble will apparently work, keeping the
conservatives in power through the turn of the century.
Correspondent Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.
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