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Disaffected Voters Send a Strong Message to French Politicians

Prime minister stepped down yesterday after his party is hammered at polls.

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Early elections were supposed to give France's conservative government a "new lan" and five more years to put the nation's economic house in order.

Instead, the government that came into Sunday's vote with an 80 percent majority in the National Assembly and a solid lead in the polls now will be struggling to salvage a victory in June 1 runoff elections.

Yesterday, Alain Jupp said that he would resign as prime minister to help boost conservative prospects. "We need a new team, led by a new prime minister," he said. Mr. Jupp is widely blamed for raising taxes and long-term unemployment. He has been the most unpopular prime minister since opinion polls have been keeping records.

The vote was also a rebuff to President Jacques Chirac, who last week insisted that France's credibility in the world would be jeopardized if voters did not return a conservative majority to the National Assembly. If opposition parties win next Sunday's vote, Mr. Chirac will have to govern with a Socialist prime minister.

Last Sunday's vote also calls into question France's leadership on the big European questions of the day, such as a move toward a single European currency.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had encouraged Chirac to call early elections, counts on France's support to keep the standards high for countries to join a single European currency next year. French Socialists say they want to ease conditions for entry and insist that Italy be included in the first group of qualifiers.

The president's Rally for the Republic party and its coalition partner, the Union for French Democracy, won 31 percent of the vote in the May 25 election; parties on the left won 40 percent. But the poll also sent a message to all mainstream political parties that voters have deep doubts about whether any party can solve France's No. 1 problem: an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent - and climbing.

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