French premier announces he'll step down
Move follows stunning loss in elections
May 26, 1997
Web posted at: 4:01 p.m. EDT (2001 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- French premier Alain Juppe announced he would
resign Monday, a day after his center-right coalition made
its worst showing in a first-round parliamentary election in
more than 30 years.
"A new team led by a new prime minister is needed," Juppe
said in a brief statement after meeting with President
Jacques Chirac. "I'll fight the right fight to the end. After
that, I'll consider that my job is done."
With 100 percent of the districts counted from Sunday's
ballot, unofficial results showed that the conservative
coalition led by Chirac and Juppe captured just under 30
percent of the vote, compared to 40.6 percent for a left-wing
alliance of Socialists, Communists and ecologists.
The far-right National Front, with its strong stances against
immigration and European integration, took 15 percent, its
best showing ever.
While Socialists and their allies celebrated, the results
caused the Paris stock market to plunge nearly 4 percent
Candidates who captured more than 12.5 percent advance to the
second round of balloting next Sunday. Projections showed
that if the French left can hold on to the level of support
it received in the first round, it could capture a small
majority in the National Assembly, which would force Chirac
into an unwieldy "cohabitation" with the opposition.
Juppe's unpopularity seen as dragging down right
Juppe's economic reforms and France's record 12.8 percent
unemployment rate had alienated him from a large part of the
electorate. After the ballot, leading members of Chirac's
conservative Rally for the Republic party and their centrist
allies from the Union for French Democracy said openly that
Juppe must go if conservatives were to have any chance of
victory in the second round.
Juppe, 51, had been hinting that he might sacrifice his own
position if it was necessary to help his coalition prevail.
In the end, that is what he did.
"A new era must begin now," Juppe said. "To succeed, we need
clear objectives. We have a week before us to give the French
people a better idea of our vision of the future."
Chirac was unlikely to name a preferred successor to Juppe
before the runoff, but he may indicate whether he wants a
more socially-minded, or a more free-marketeering policy.
Chirac's election gamble may have backfired
The irony in Sunday's results is that, constitutionally,
Chirac did not have to call an election for 10 more months,
and the center-right coalition held about 80 percent of the
seats in the National Assembly.
But he took a gamble and called elections before imposing
further economic austerity measures needed to qualify France
for the single European currency in 1999. The thinking was
that conservatives would be more likely to win before those
measures were imposed than after.
Now, if Chirac is forced to share power with the left, the
pace of budget cuts and other austerity measures would likely
slow. The Communists in particular have been cool to the idea
of joining the single currency.
Lionel Jospin, who is likely to become
premier if the left wins a majority next Sunday, called on
voters to back a "pact for change."
"The French can see a future with the left," he said. "The
forces of the left must rally together."
"The next government must make it a priority to listen to the
concerns of all the French who feel worried, who feel
forgotten and threatened," Jospin said.
Le Pen's support could be key in second round
One of the big question marks for the second round is where
voters who backed candidates from the National Front, led by
Jean-Marie Le Pen, will go.
The Front was expected to announce later Monday whether it
would urge its voters to support the center-right or the left
in constituencies where its candidates were eliminated in the
first round. But Le Pen went out of his way to take a swipe
at the conservative president.
"President Chirac put himself personally into this battle,
and he has been defeated. He should go," Le Pen said.
However, on Tuesday, Chirac will get the opportunity to use
the trappings of his office to boost his coalition's
prospects. He will host a signing ceremony at Elysee Palace
for a new partnership between Russia and NATO.
"It shows that under his leadership, France can play an
important role in the new NATO," said a presidential aide.
Correspondent Jim Bitterman and
Reuters contributed to this report.
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