Chirac, French conservatives stung by election result
Left could take parliament in runoffs this Sunday
May 26, 1997
Web posted at: 10:15 a.m. EDT (1415 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- French conservatives, stung by their poorest
showing in a first-round parliamentary election in 30 years,
found themselves Monday in a battle to retain power.
With 100 percent of the districts counted from Sunday's
ballot, unofficial results showed that the center-right
coalition of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister
Alain 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 in
early trading Monday. It later recovered.
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.
Conservatives say they heard voters' message
However, only about a dozen out of the 577 races were decided
in the first round, so the outcome is still very much up in
the air. Traditionally, French voters often use the first
round of balloting as a protest vote.
Leaders of the center-right alliance said they had gotten the
message from disenchanted voters and would take the fight to
the second round.
"It's a warning," said Alain Lamassoure, government spokesman
and budget minister. "The game isn't over, and we're counting
on winning the second round."
"Frankly, it's a disappointing result," said Herve de
Charette, the foreign minister. "I think this is a very clear
message for the majority and for the government."
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
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.
, who is likely to become prime
minister 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.
Unpopular Juppe hints again that he may go
The biggest loser in Sunday's ballot may have been Juppe,
whose unpopularity was seen as a major handicap for the
center-right. On Monday, Juppe would not directly address the
question of whether he should go but indicated, as he had
during the campaign, that it was a possibility.
"If the only obstacle to the renewal and modernization of
France is a choice of personnel, I am completely convinced
that the president will make the right choice," said Juppe.
"What is at stake is not Alain Juppe but France."
Monday, Chirac was giving no hint as to whether he was
considering sacking Juppe.
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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