Crushed Socialists seek 'new baptism'

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The Independent Online
PARIS - The French Socialist Party, having lost around 200 seats as the right romped to victory, lies in tatters after 12 years' domination, writes Julian Nundy.

Michel Rocard, although he lost his seat, is still the Socialists' heir apparent to President Mitterrand. As the results came through last night, he and Laurent Fabius, the first secretary, spoke of the need to re-invigorate the left.

Mr Fabius said the Socialists had gone 'far from the heart', losing sight of their original ideals. Mr Rocard promised to re-launch his 'big bang', a project for an alliance with dissident Communists, ecologists and the centre left which he announced last month.

Elisabeth Guigou, the outgoing European Affairs Minister, said work would start 'from tomorrow' and 'maybe it (the party) will be re- baptised, but we will be back in two years, seven years or nine years.'

In the ruins of the election, it was difficult to see where the left could start its 'big bang'. For even the ecologists, tipped as a new haven for protest votes, took only half of the 15 per cent predicted by the polls. Their last-minute differences apparently unnerved some would-be supporters.

Further to the left, Gisele Moreau, a Communist deputy, said the Socialists had been driven out because they followed 'policies of the right'. That theme was repeated by Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the former Socialist defence minister who left the government in protest at the Gulf war.

When the Socialists were first elected in 1981, they followed decidedly left policies, including widespread nationalisations. These ended when the government's popularity hit a dangerous low.

After President Francois Mitterrand's re-election in 1988, new parliamentary elections put the Socialists back in power, with Mr Rocard as Prime Minister. But, with only a minority government, he ruled almost by decree, passing legislation under article 49.3 of the Constitution, making debate after debate a confidence issue and rushing through the votes. Democracy looked shallow.

The same legislature granted an amnesty to elected officials accused of corruption. So talk of corruption, personal or in support of party funding, became constant.

A number of politicians, most of them Socialists, were questioned. The cases are still pending. Angouleme, run by a Socialist mayor who was also the city's deputy, went bankrupt. He fled to open a restaurant in Buenos Aires. Even Pierre Beregovoy, the outgoing Prime Minister, became tarnished when it transpired that he had accepted an interest-free loan from a man who was later accused of insider trading.

When asked why he no longer votes Socialist, the man in the street may talk of unemployment or insecurity, neither of which he believes the right will correct. But his main complaint is what Mr Beregovoy calls 'disappointment'.

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