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French prime minister concedes

Socialist supporters celebrate

Socialists win stunning upset

June 1, 1997
Web posted at: 5:19 p.m. EDT (1719 GMT)

Latest developments:

PARIS (CNN) -- French Prime Minister Alain Juppe conceded defeat in Sunday's national election, saying his center-right coalition "did not manage to convince the French people that we were going in the right direction."

The Socialists captured nearly 37 percent of the vote and 286 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, just three short of an outright majority. The victory reversed a stunning defeat the Socialists suffered just four years ago.

Exit poll results

Socialist leader Lionel Jospin is expected to be named as the new prime minister by President Jacques Chirac, dividing the powers of the national government between a conservative president and a Socialist premier. In France, such divided government is known as "cohabitation."

"We now have the obligation to mobilize all our energies, all our hearts, all our skill to make this political change, for which we were elected, work," Jospin said.

He characterized the election results as "a reasoned and pressing demand for real long-term progress for the French people, especially the least-favored."

Juppe: 'The people have spoken'

After a weak showing in the first round of voting last Sunday, the unpopular Juppe had announced that he would resign no matter how the election turned out. That political sacrifice, an effort to bolster his coalition's chances in the second round, wasn't enough to change the outcome.

Alain Juppe

"The people have spoken. Their decision is sovereign. We all respect it," Juppe said. "I wish good luck to those who will now govern France."

Overall, parties of the left, including Socialists, Communists and ecologists, will hold 333 seats, election projections showed. Parties of the mainstream right, including the center-right coalition of Juppe and Chirac, will hold 243 seats. The far-right National Front will hold one seat.

By contrast, in the last election in 1993, the center-right coalition won about 80 percent of the seats. Under French law, Chirac could have continued for another 10 months with that parliament, in which his forces dominated.

But he chose to take a gamble and call elections early in hopes of improving his coalition's chances of victory -- a gamble that clearly didn't pay off.

Chirac's austerity program may face tough road

Jacques Chirac

The loss Sunday is expected to make it much more difficult for Chirac to press ahead with a program of austerity measures needed to qualify France for admission into a single European currency, the euro.

Jospin favors the euro but not many of the austerity proposals. And he may still form a governing coalition with the Communists, who are opposed to the euro altogether.

However, because of their strong showing, the Socialists may be able to form a coalition government with ecologists and other non-Communist allies on the left, leaving out the Communists.

France's stubbornly high unemployment, which Juppe's government was unable to bring down, was one of the main issues in the election.

Lionel Jospin

Chirac and Juppe had pushed for more free-market reform and austerity. In a country where a fourth of the work force is on the state payroll and government spending accounts for half the gross domestic product, the efforts were met with strikes and protests, highlighted by walkouts that paralyzed much of France in late 1995.

During the campaign, Jospin called for the creation of 700,000 jobs, half in the public and half in the private sector. The Socialists also want to cut the work week from 39 to 35 hours with the same pay and support reimposition of government controls on layoffs.

Correspondents Jim Bittermann, Peter Hume and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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