Election called earthquake

SUN JOURNAL

France: The nation's media examine the first round of voting for president, which resulted in the capture of a runoff spot by a far-right-winger.

April 23, 2002|By Meg Bortin | Meg Bortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The election, says France's Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, hit like a "thunderbolt." In Sunday's runoff for the French presidency, the extreme right-winger (some would say racist and anti-Semitic) Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second to President Jacques Chirac. Le Pen, characteristically, seized on fear of crime and suspicion of immigrants (the French code word is security).

Chirac did as well, and so did Jospin, also a candidate - but Le Pen used it more adroitly than either. The election had a record number of candidates - 16 - and a record number of uninterested voters - 28 percent of the electorate did not vote. The results, with 16 candidates running: Chirac, 19.88 percent; Le Pen, 16.8 percent; Jospin, 16.18 percent.

Here's a look at how the French press regards the election, in excerpts from yesterday's editions:

Serge July, founder of the leftist newspaper Liberation:

"The French political system, which has been off-balance for years, has finally imploded. ...

"The head of state, by imposing a campaign on the single theme of security for the past two months, opened a Pandora's box. The slippery slope of security trapped Lionel Jospin, who, in his rigidity, did not seek to modify his campaign and, once he became aware of how the security issue was fanning the flames, chose to follow his rival onto this territory, sticking so close to him that he lost all identity.

"The security issue drowned out Jospin's record on economic and social matters, making it inaudible. Finally, the bidding war on security put Le Pen into the saddle, back from nowheres- ville. ...

"We'd better admit it: France is a country without a compass, frightened, scared of shadows, politically unable to turn toward the future.

"The elimination of Lionel Jospin is unjust in several respects. That the honest man was eliminated by the discredited president with no record and the authoritarian and racist big blond fellow is not particularly glorious for our country. ...

"The political landscape is upset, traumatized, wounded, exhausted, bereft of strength. France will not be able to avoid a reshaping of its institutions, a clarification of its power structure. France has been thrown into disorder, as though there had been an earthquake."

Jean de Belot, in the conservative Le Figaro:

"An earthquake. One has to go back to 1969 to see the left absent from the second round of a presidential election. And even then the two finalists, Georges Pompidou and Alain Poher, were centrists.

"The result after the first round yesterday marks a huge break of another kind. The historic defeat of the left and the arrival in the runoff, alongside the mainstream center-right parties, of the candidate of the National Front, completely upsets the political chessboard. And speaks loudly of the deep gap between the political class and the electorate. Between what is said and the reality of life for the French. ...

"First and foremost on essential choices. Europe? Everyone accepted, without reacting, the successive stages of the `European imperative.' But Europe belongs neither to the proponents of `a certain idea of France' [Chirac's slogan] nor to the Socialists.

"International economic competition? The political mainstream wants to make people think that France can `be part of the world' without accepting its rules. The result of which is that the most dynamic people leave, the productive classes are bled dry, more and more of the population is marginalized. ...

"Beyond the shock of some and the sadness of others, there are several questions this morning. The first concerns the left: It needs to understand the reasons for its failure. Why, after five years as prime minister, did Lionel Jospin suffer a total defeat?

"The second concerns the right, which is now certain that Jacques Chirac will win. What policy should be proposed and implemented, tomorrow, to reconstruct a country that is both fragmented and exasperated? The National Front will be stronger in the legislative elections in June than it was in 1997. It will be capable, thanks to its presence in three-way races, of allowing victory by the very left that the French rejected yesterday.

"For Jacques Chirac, the battle for the legislative elections begins this morning."

Jean-Marie Colombani, publisher of the left-of-center Le Monde, the country's most influential newspaper:

"France is wounded. And for many French citizens, humiliated.

"A leader in a European Union that she obstinately sought and to whose construction she has powerfully contributed, she presents of herself - on the day after this April 21 marked by the political coronation of the sinister demagogue who runs the French extreme right - the image of a country turned in on itself, diminished, haunted by its own decline, afraid of its own children, especially when they live in the [working-class] suburbs. Yes, alas, the weather is worsening for France. ...

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