Paris is jubilant as election sets France on new course
Never since the liberation of Paris in 1944 has France witnessed such euphoria. Shortly after nationwide radio and television proclaimed Socialist Francois Mitterrand its 21st president Sunday evening, hundreds of thousands of left-wing supporters throughout the country poured into the streets cheering wildly and kissing each other with abandon.
Not only has the defeat of outgoing President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the second round of the French election brought an end to 23 years of conservative rule, but also it appears to have released a startling swell of pent-up frustration among France's left-wing voters, who had almost accepted a permanent role as opposition party.
In Paris, an estimated 100,000 Socialists and Communists converged on teh Bastille, symbol of the French Revolution that overthrew the monarchy. They waved red flags, banners, and roses (the Socialist Party emblem) while listening too speeches and singing songs.
Streams on honking cars with supporters clinging to the roofs or leaning out of windows clogged the streets. Even in the jammed Metro, crowds of youths rode first-class, shouting, "We have won, we have won, the barriers have been lifted."
A sudden but violent thunderstorm dampened the crowd's spirits only slightly.
Mr. Mitterrand's election sent shock waves through the French stock market and caused the French franc to tumble on the international exchange market. The dollar rose against the franc form 5.34 on Friday to 5.49 May 11.
Although political analysts predicted an extremely tight race with the Elysee Palace, few thought the Socialist candidate would win by such a wide margin of well over 1 million votes. In the last presidential elections, Giscard narrowly beat Mitterland by just over 400,000 votes.
A two-time loser in previous presidential elections, Mitterrand seemed somewhat stupified, if not outright solemn, when he appeared to make his first statement to the press. "The results have shown that French men and women have chosen the change I have proposed," he said at Chateau Chinon in Burgundy, where he is the town mayor. "This victory . . . has united us all in a great national leap forward."
Above all the Socialist victory signals the advent of what could prove to be the most significant social and political change in the history of the Fifth Republic. One of the first moves of the President-elect who is slated to take office on two week, will be to dissolve the National Assembly and hold legislative elections in June.
The purpose of this is to establish the left-wing working majority Mitterrand will require if he wants his social and economic reforms adopted. These include a price freeze, an increase in family allowances, old-age benefits, and the basic national wage as well as a reduction in the workweek from 40 to 35 hours.
Mitterrand has also promised to create 210,000 new jobs in the public sector by June 1982 in an attempt to ease France's high unemployment. But one of the most radical departures from the previous administration would be to nationalize certain major banks and other companies once the new deputies take their seats in the National Assembly.
Mitterrand, who was forced to rely on massive Communist support for his election, hopes to substantially reduce their representation in the assembly in order to avoid being at the beck and call of a highly vociferous Georges Marchais.
Giscard d'Estaing, who was reportedly stunned by the Socialist victory and has as yet to make a televised appearances, said in an official communique that he would "obviously continue to defend the essential interests of our country."
But Giscard's obvious hopes to lead the new conservative opposition have been directly challenged by neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac. The ambitous mayor of Paris , who is already being accused by the Giscardians of having let the President down, has appealed to France's right-wing forces to rally against "this new risk which has brought about a period of uncertainty."
"No one can underestimate the importance and gravity of the future of our country," he added.
The outcome of the June legislative elections, which are already being referred to as the "third round," will undoubtedly affect the future of the new government. Although the left is expected to encounter severe difficulties in obtaining enough seats to establish a working majority, the right will not f ind it an easy task to restrain Mitterrand either.