Few cheers for Rocard: Presidential hopeful faces tough test in tomorrow's polls

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The Independent Online
THE ONLY big cheer came when a speaker announced that Paris St Germain had beaten Real Madrid to qualify for the Uefa cup semi-finals. Otherwise, Michel Rocard's last campaign appearance, in a constituency which he may well lose, was a quiet affair, even though Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, had come to lend his support to a man expected to be the next Socialist presidential contender.

Before a crowd of 700-800, the two men, probably the most respected and universally liked leaders of the Socialist Party, talked on Thursday of the inevitability of defeat in the National Assembly elections which start tomorrow. Mr Beregovoy set out to explain the achievements of a left-wing administration which has run the country, with a brief interlude, since Francois Mitterrand was first elected President in 1981.

He cited the stability of the French franc, coming under renewed pressure at this election time. He warned that the conservative landslide expected to emerge after the second round of voting on Sunday 28 March could bring back 'the vicious circle of inflation and devaluation'. The majority of politicians from the Gaullist RPR and centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) maintain they are in favour of the current link to the Deutschmark which keeps the franc steady.

Mr Beregovoy's support of the franc, as Prime Minister for the past year and finance minister before that, is the one element of Socialist rule that most of the right says it wants to keep. Francois Leotard of the UDF said this week that he and others had made 'the Frankfurt pilgrimage' to meet officials of the Bundesbank to ensure it gives the franc backing during the buffeting it is about to get during and after the elections.

Mr Rocard spoke of the 'uncontrolled drunkenness of victory' which a landslide would give the right. He talked of his 'Big Bang', the only original moment in an otherwise dull campaign which ended at midnight last night. The 'Big Bang' was Mr Rocard's proposal last month to form a new centre-left alliance, from dissident Communists to the centre, taking in the ecologists. It was, he said, 'the founding promise of a new political, social and national world'.

As he spoke, the 'Big Bang' was taking a big knock. Earlier in the day, Le Monde said the senior Socialist leadership, in a decision to be announced tomorrow, had agreed to stand down in favour of ecologist and Communist candidates between the two rounds of voting where this would ensure defeat of the right.

Dominique Voynet, the spokeswoman for the Greens party, dismissed this in a radio interview as a manoeuvre and insisted that she and her colleagues would not budge in their determination not to reciprocate and save Socialist seats. However, this may be pre-election posturing. Since the ecologists have promised to examine the position constituency by constituency, crucial last- minute accords will almost certainly be cobbled together.

Mr Rocard, 62, made an appeal for personal support from the voters to ensure that he can carry through his project for reform of the left. The voters' decision in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, an hour's drive west of Paris in the Yvelines department, would have more than just a local impact, he said. 'A lot depends on the decision that they will take, and they know it, for Conflans and the Yvelines, of course, but also beyond.'

Mr Rocard, who was Prime Minister from 1988 to 1991, is the current favourite to be the left's candidate in the next presidential election in 1995 when, the calculation is, the current swing to the right may have turned. He will probably stand against the Gaullist Jacques Chirac, an old student friend, who has no problem being re-elected to his parliamentary constituency in this election. If Mr Rocard loses his seat, and polls have said he may, it will give him a serious image handicap at the most crucial time in his career.

Publication of opinion polls ceased by law last weekend. But the Renseignements Generaux, roughly the equivalent of the Special Branch, continue to carry out secret soundings up to the last minute. As a member of the government party, Mr Rocard has access to the findings. If the gloom hanging over his supporters at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine was any guide, he had little reason for optimism.

(Photograph omitted)

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