France tilts to the right

March 31, 1992

Two allied conservative parties did the best in the French elections for regional assemblies this month with 33 percent. The ruling Socialists of President Francois Mitterrand and Premier Edith Cresson came in second with 18.3 percent. But the big news is that two ecology parties that don't speak to each other got a combined 13.9 percent, and the right-wing, racist and anti-immigrant National Front got the same. The smaller odd-ball and fringe showing was considerable.

This will remake France's local and regional government. In what may be a prelude to next year's parliamentary election, the Socialists were drubbed. The conservatives who invoke the memory of Charles de Gaulle are the biggest faction, but far short of a majority. The working class on which the Socialists depend defected in droves to Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front, because it is against the North African immigrants who are taking jobs and depressing wages. Young people on whom the leftist parties also depended went over to the two ecology parties. If they can't fight capitalism, they will fight pollution.

In the deal-making for local government that is going on, Socialists and conservatives are wooing the more pragmatic of the two ecology parties. Everyone is shunning the National Front as a pariah, so far. Mr. Le Pen took a personal defeat. He was denied a seat by the voters in Nice and cannot become mayor and political boss of that immigrant-laden Mediterranean resort city. His bid for respectability and power fell short, this time.

All this because the left fell apart. The Communists, once the biggest single party in France, were down to 8 percent. The country where everyone who mattered intellectually was Marxist is now the country where no one who matters is. Meanwhile, President Mitterrand remains with a shrinking and elderly following. His most likely tactic is to dump the unpopular Premier Cresson. But that does not look like enough. The French are stuck with President Mitterrand until 1995 -- and vice versa.

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