France consolidates its left turn
The tidal shift in French politics that swept Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand into the presidency last month now has poured through the first round of crucial legislative elections.
As a result Mr. Mitterrand is virtually assured of the parliamentary najority he needs to help push through the next National Assembly his proposed economic an social reforms. And such is the Socialist initial landslide that it seems likely that they will be to govern without Communist support.
This time, unlike the panicky reaction to Mitterrand's own May 10 election, there appears to be a much calmer acquiescence in the electorate's decision to give the Mitterrand policies a chance. After the June 14 first-round election results gave left-wing candidates an overwhelming dominance over conservative forces, the Paris stock exchange remained relatively stable.
Routing the country's neo-Gaullist, Giscardien, and extreme right-wing parties with a 55 percent to 44 percent lead, the combined left could score well over 300 aseats in the next National Assembly in the June 21 second and final ballot. And although the June 14 elections are far from conclusive,such a massive defeat would cause the former right- wing majority to lose practically half of its previous parliamentary representation.
More significant, however, computer projections suggest that the Socialists and their junior partners, the Radical Levt Movement (MRG), who received a combined 39 percent, can expect to emerge next week with an absolute majority -- without the Communists. Requiring at least 246 seats to hold the house, various forecasts have given the Socialists up to 285 seats.
The Communists have fared almost as badly as they did in the April 26 first-round presidential election. With only 15.5 percen of the national vote, the French Communist Party (PCF) now stands to lose up to half of the 86 seats it held in the previous parliament. This appears to confirm a definite decline in the PCF an not a temporary setback, as argued by party leaders, of traditional Communist voters preferring to support the Socialists in order to beat the right.
If the Socialists manage to obtain an absolute majority on their own, then it seems unlikely that they will feel obliged to include Communist ministers in a reshuffled postelection cabinet.
Some Socialist Party members suggest, however, that it might be more strategic to appoint one or two token PCF ministers to "nonsensitive" posts such as the Ministry of Culture in order to placate criticism among the Communist base and the PCF-controlled Confederation Generale du Travail trade union.
One striking characteristic of this past ballot was the 71.1 percent participation rate, the lowest since the 1962 legislative elections. Although the hot, sunny weather may have persuaded many to head for the country, observers find it difficult to understand why such a high proportion of France's 36 million registered voters did not go to the polls. Some point out that widespread expectations of a left-wing victory induced many conservatives to stay home. Others suggest that after April an May presidential ballots, a general election weariness may have been responsible.
Shortly after the first results were announced Sunday evening, neo-Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac made a solemn appeal to conservative voters to turn out in force for the June 21 final round in order to halt the left-wing surge. "This is not the time for resignation," he warned. "The importance of this second round . . . is capital."
The left could witness a substantial reduction in their margin if the conservatives manage to rally sufficient support. Furthermore, despite the Socialist-Communist electoral agreemen, some Communists may refuse to support Socialist candidates in the second round, particularly in traditionally "red" areas.
A large number of Communist candidates, including several Politburo members, were eliminted in the first round by Socialist opponents. But observers consider it doubtful that the present Socialist "tidal effect" created by President Mitterrand's May 10 election can be reversed.
"The business community is still not happy about a left- wing government, but they are somewhat relieved to see that the Communists failed to make headway and that the Socialists may get an overall majority. This definitely reduces the risks of turmoil for the moment," said one French bank director.