France Moves to the Right

March 28, 1993

The rejection of the left in France's parliamentary voting, to be concluded today, is decisive. It will leave the aloof Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, isolated in the last two years of his seven-year term. It is a foregone conclusion he will appoint Edouard Balladur, the chief lieutenant of Gaullist Jacques Chirac, as prime minister. The shouting is about whether Mr. Mitterrand should resign the presidency, which he insists he will not.

The constitution of the Fifth Republic of 1958 is boomeranging. It gave a seven-year presidency with great authority to the magisterial Charles de Gaulle, to create stability overarching any lurch of public opinion in the five-year terms of the National Assembly. But the total rejection of the Socialists in last Sunday's first round of voting could lead to as many as 500 of the 577 deputies of the National Assembly supporting the conservative Alliance.

The voting is for the Gaullist tradition, with the left-wing mirror image of de Gaulle, Mr. Mitterrand, predicting riot and crisis. Mr. Mitterrand carefully rebuilt the Socialist Party from scratch after General de Gaulle demolished it 35 years ago. He has served as president for 12 years, first as a true leftist, then joining the fashion of strengthening the private sector. From 1986 to 1988, the parties awkwardly "co-habited," with President Mitterrand appointing a conservative government under Mr. Chirac, the two competing to speak for France.

The rejection of the left -- based on recession, corruption, anti-immigrant fervor and pessimism about the French future in a German Europe -- is complete. Any new "co-habitation" would be different. The current politicking is about the presidency, either now or in 1995 if Mr. Mitterrand hangs on, as seems likely. Mr. Chirac came out of last Sunday's vote the most powerful politician in France. He spurns another prime ministry. He is positioned in the race for the presidency well ahead of his rival and partner in the conservative alliance, former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

Communists, ecologists and the extreme-right National Front made no gains. But the hate-mongering Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front is entitled to complain that the respectable parties of the right stole his program, and that the voting system excludes smaller parties. The National Front garnered 12.4 percent of the vote in the first round but expects only one or two seats.

The new government is likely to be tough on immigrants, as protective of farmers as prior regimes and internally divided on -- European monetary union. France has chosen the heritage of de Gaulle, and only the old Socialist who occupies a presidency tailored 35 years ago to de Gaulle's exact measurements, stands forlornly in the way.

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