French cast ballots in pivotal vote
June 1, 1997
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT)
In this story:
PARIS (CNN) -- French voters headed to polling stations
Sunday for the second round of a two-stage parliamentary
election that could force conservative President Jacques
Chirac to share power with the left.
Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) throughout France and were
to close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), when the first polling result
projections were to be released. Official figures were
expected later in the evening.
Politicians on both sides encouraged France's 39 million
eligible voters to go to the polls, hoping the 32 percent of
the voting public that abstained in last weekend's
first round could make the difference in the tight race.
As of noon, 24 percent of registered voters had cast
their ballots -- higher than the participation rate of 17.5
percent at the same hour in the 1993 election.
"For me these elections would be a new opportunity for France
in the next century," one voter told CNN.
Other voters were indifferent. Marc Morelli, 20, said it
doesn't matter whether "you vote for the right or left, it
always stays the same. Once they get in power, their promises
are worth nothing."
Leftist opposition looks for upset
The outcome of Sunday's runoff balloting was thrown wide open
by last week's first round, which saw France's leftist
opposition capitalize on voter discontent.
Only 12 seats were decided last week, with the left garnering
about 40 percent of the vote compared to the center-right's
30 percent. A governing coalition needs at least 289 seats
out of the 577 in the National Assembly.
Chirac's center-right coalition enjoyed an 80 percent
majority in the last parliament. Chirac called the elections
10 months early in his search for a mandate for his economic
But with the jobless rate at a record high 12.8 percent,
unemployment is a key concern among voters, many of whom are
wary of Chirac's austerity plan. The president has been
driving France to meet strict criteria to join the euro, the
European currency to start circulating in 1999.
Right scrambles for votes
In the campaign's final days, Chirac's governing coalition
has sought to soften its line on cutting the deficit to
qualify for the euro while still reducing unemployment.
Chirac scrambled to turn the tide after last Sunday's first
round. The president jettisoned Premier Alain Juppe, France's
most unpopular prime minister since the 1950s. Philippe
Seguin, the popular and somewhat euroskeptic National
Assembly president, is being touted as the likely prime
minister should the right win.
If the ruling coalition loses, Chirac will be forced to
"cohabit," or share power, with a hostile government led by
Socialist leader Lionel Jospin.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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