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France runoff may hinge on voter turnout

rally May 31, 1997
Web posted at: 11:34 a.m. EDT (1134 GMT)

From Correspondent Peter Humi

PARIS (CNN) -- Banned from national campaigning or media appearances on the last day before France's parliamentary election runoffs, candidates mostly stayed in their districts Saturday.

Meanwhile, French newspapers on the left and right sought to get out the vote for Sunday's balloting that will decide if the right can hang on to its governing majority.

The center-right coalition performed dismally in the first round of voting and now faces an unprecedented number of candidates from the National Front.


President Jacques Chirac's chief lieutenant, the unpopular outgoing Premier Alain Juppe, promised to quit after the runoff, regardless of its outcome.

But even without Juppe, the Gaullists appear to have only the slimmest hope of retaining power. This weekend could well prove to be the current administration's last hurrah.

Socialists plan for victory

In fact, Socialists in Lille were already preparing themselves to take up the reins of power. Campaigning on youth job programs and a shorter work week with no pay cut, the left took about 40 percent of the vote to the right's 30 percent in the first round.

In hopes of a solid runoff rout, Socialist ministerial posts have reportedly already been designated. And to ensure a working majority in parliament, the Socialists have already brokered deals with the Communist Party, which is expected to win a crucial 25 or more seats in the 577-seat body.


Party leader Lionel Jospin appealed to the electorate to finish the job started in the second round. "I'm counting on you all to give us the thundering success that will be the means to reach the victory of our policies," he said.

A left-wing coalition would present Chirac with a potentially uneasy partnership of power. "The president will want to show that he is the president, and that on foreign affairs he still has rights and the right to command," said political scientist Roland Cayrol.

On the other hand, he said, "I think Lionel Jospin is not prepared to accept not to be on the European scene himself, so I think we will have problems, tensions -- and probably visible tensions -- between the two men."

But it may be the performance of the extreme right-wing National Front, headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, that proves the current government's undoing.


The far-right party won its highest ever result of 14.9 percent in the first round of voting. Many of its candidates have qualified for the runoff, and will be running against conservative candidates in a quarter of the open seats. They are expected to take away enough votes from the center-right to cost them dearly in many constituencies.

However, voter turnout is likely to be the key of this election race. Nearly one in three of the electorate failed to vote in the first round.

But despite a personal appeal by Chirac earlier this week, the electorate appears at best disillusioned. "It's not a popular vote in favor of the Socialist program or party. There is no enthusiasm about Lionel Jospin and his team," Cayrol said. "The acidity, the vigor against Alain Juppe and the majority is very vivid and they wanted to say no."

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