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French Prime Minister Juppe resigns after stunning upset

Socialist supporters celebrate

June 2, 1997
Web posted at: 4:23 a.m. EDT (0423 GMT)

Latest developments:

PARIS (CNN) -- French Prime Minister Alain Juppe formally resigned Monday, a day after a stinging electoral defeat.

Sunday night's defeat for President Jacques Chirac's conservative coalition left Socialist Party leader Lionel Jospin as Juppe's imminent successor.

Juppe gave his formal resignation to Chirac on Monday just after 9 a.m. (0700 GMT), beginning the transition process. Jospin was expected to be named the new premier as early as Monday afternoon.

exit poll results

The Socialist Party captured 252 seats, giving its coalition a total of 275 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, just 14 short of an outright majority. The Communists won 39. The non-aligned far-right National Front party took a single seat.

Once Jospin is named prime minister, it will divide 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'

Alain Juppe

After a weak showing in the first round of voting last Sunday, the unpopular Juppe 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.

"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 314 seats, election projections showed. Parties of the mainstream right, including the center-right coalition of Juppe and Chirac, will hold 262 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

Lionel Jospin

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.

Jacques Chirac

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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