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French leftists gain ground in parliamentary vote


May 25, 1997
Web posted at: 9:36 p.m. EDT (0136 GMT)

PARIS (CNN) -- France's leftist opposition capitalized on voter discontent Sunday to win a large portion of the vote in the first round of a two-stage parliamentary vote. The left is now within reach of a stunning upset in next week's decisive runoff, exit polls indicate.

French President Jacques Chirac called the elections 10 months early, hoping the electorate would endorse his economic austerity program. But two years after Chirac came to power, the unemployment rate has soared, and currently remains at an unstable 12.8 percent.

France Elections

With 90 percent of the districts counted, Chirac's coalition had 30 percent of the vote, the Socialists 23.9 percent, the far-right National Front 15 percent, the Communists 9.8 percent and ecologist parties 6.7 percent.

Exit polls suggested the left was within striking distance of taking a majority of seats, if the Socialists and Communists could form a government. A governing coalition needs at least 289 seats out of the 577.

Chirac's conservative coalition controlled 80 percent in the last parliament.

More than 6,000 candidates from 68 parties are vying for 577 seats in the National Assembly. In races where no candidate gets a majority, runoffs will be held June 1.

A leftist victory in the June 1 runoff would force Chirac into a "cohabitation" with the left. If that were to happen, political analysts say it would likely force Chirac to part with his current policies -- viewed by the opposition as threatening France's cherished system of social and labor protections.


Despite the outcome in Sunday's election, Prime Minister Alain Juppe appeared optimistic about next week's vote.

"We are calm and determined," he said in a news conference. "I urge all those who did not vote for us on the first round to think carefully before voting on the second round."


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