The view from home

Settling into a groove

ANDREW PHILLIPS June 13 1988
The view from home

Settling into a groove

ANDREW PHILLIPS June 13 1988

Settling into a groove

FRANCE

For a politician in the midst of an election campaign, it was an unusual statement. When France’s new Socialist prime minister, Michel Rocard, addressed cheering supporters last week in his home riding, northwest of Paris, he issued an expected appeal for support. But with opinion polls showing his party moving toward a large majority in the national assembly, Rocard also intimated that a crushing victory might not be a welcome development. He added that other parties must be fairly represented in the assembly—and he told rankand-file Socialists not to interpret their anticipated victory as a mandate for radical change. The danger, declared Rocard, was that “the confidence shown in the polls might be accompanied by impatience” on the part of extremists in the party.

As the country approached a tworound vote on June 5 and June 12, the Socialists seemed assured of a major victory, however. Leading pollsters predicted that the Socialists would win a huge majority—as many as 410 seats in the 577-seat assembly. For Ottawa, where officials say that they are al-

ready heartened by developments following the presidential election, that would be a welcome development.

At the same time, moderate conserva-

tive parties, which were running joint candidates in almost all ridings, were expected to win almost all the remaining seats. The Communist Party and the extreme-right National Front, according to the polls, were destined to win only a handful of seats or be wiped out completely.

But such an outcome would make it much more difficult for Rocard and Socialist President François Mitterrand to accomplish what they have set as their main goal: bringing mainstream conservatives into a middle-ofthe-road coalition as a way of breaking down the traditionally bitter left-right divisions of French politics. Said Philippe Méchet, deputy director of the Paris-based polling company Sofres: “The right might become embittered by such a humiliating defeat. A closer result would be more healthy.”

Mitterrand dissolved the old assembly on May 14, just f six days after the 71-year-old president was re-elected to a second term. Mitterrand beat his conservative rival, former prime minister Jacques Chirac, by a convincing margin of 54 per cent to 46 per cent. The outcome clearly demoralized French conserva-

tives. And they seemed even more stunned by the significant 14.4-percent support won in the first round of the presidential contest by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front leader.

But Le Pen has failed to capitalize on that support in the campaign for a new assembly. The National Front won 35 seats in the old assembly, elected in 1986 through a system of modified proportional representation. But France’s electoral system has since been changed, and candidates now need only a simple majority vote in each riding. And with the National Front’s support slumping to less than 10 per cent in the polls, it was expected to win fewer than five seats.

Le Pen, a 60-year-old former French army paratrooper, was even expected to lose his own seat in Marseilles, the southern port city that gave him 28-per-cent support in the presidential vote. The new campaign also embroiled Le Pen in a series of bizarre episodes. His former wife, Pierrette, who last year

posed in a skimpy maid’s outfit for the French edition of Playboy magazine as part of a campaign to embarrass her ex-husband, had herself nominated as the official substitute for a right-wing candidate near Marseilles. She used the platform to accuse Le Pen of being both an anti-Semite and an inadequate lover.

Some French analysts argued that declining support for the National Front —the last polls published before the election put its support at between seven per cent and 9.5 per cent— proved that fears of a rise in right-wing extremism were exaggerated. But others cau| tioned that Le Pen remained a potent force. Said pollster Méchet: “He rose from nothing and he could rise again.” Leaders of other parties, meanwhile, expressed concern that the expected Socialist landslide would make it difficult for Mitterrand to create a so-called ouverture—an opening for other moderate left and right parties to co-operate in a broad centrist alliance. Rocard had named

six non-Socialists to his 26-member cabinet and announced that his government would pursue a moderate course. But an overwhelming Socialist triumph might well prompt party members to insist on gathering the spoils of victory—both in government appointments and in more radical policies. Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a leader of the Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République, said that “the more Socialist deputies who are returned, the more difficult will be the chances of getting consensus government.”

For Canada, the defeat of Chirac and the end of his uneasy power-sharing with Mitterrand has already produced positive results. After meeting Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Paris on May 26, Rocard announced that talks to settle a dispute over Atlantic fishing rights—which faltered under the hard-line Chirac—would resume this month. Canadian officials in Paris said last week that the new Socialist government had brought an immediate improvement to the strained relations between Paris and Ottawa. Barring a last-minute surprise, it appeared last week that Canada, and other countries, could safely count on dealing with a Socialist France after June 12.

-ANDREW PHILLIPS in Paris