Landslide for French right: Conservatives look set to win 460 Assembly seats

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The Independent Online
FRANCE'S conservative alliance may take up to 80 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly, dealing a crushing blow to President Francois Mitterrand's Socialists.

With results counted from all 577 constituencies, the Gaullist RPR and the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) took 39.62 per cent in the first round of voting on Sunday against 19.24 for the Socialist Party and its allies, according to Interior Ministry figures released yesterday.

In terms of seats, computer projections said that, after the final, run-off round in most constituencies next Sunday, the conservatives could have 460 seats. One projection by the Sofres polling institute put the total as high as 476.

The Socialists, dropping to about 80 seats, according to these forecasts, urged the 30 per cent of electors who abstained to vote next week and reduce the conservative landslide. The right won 80 seats outright in constituencies where its candidates took more than 50 per cent in the first round. The left had none.

Michel Sapin, the Finance Minister, was defeated in the first round and several other ministers including, Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, and Jack Lang, the Culture Minister, were forced into difficult second- round votes. Michel Rocard, the former prime minister and until now regarded as the Socialists' most likely candidate for the next presidential elections in 1995, was in danger of losing his seat in the Yvelines department west of Paris.

The French media saw the result as a huge personal defeat for the 76-year- old President. The size of the conservative victory will make it difficult for him to influence government policy, unlike when the French were last governed by 'cohabitation', a conservative cabinet under the Socialist President, from 1986 to 1988.

'Massive and frank rejection', was the headline in the conservative Le Figaro, over a photograph of President Mitterrand as he went to vote. 'Landslide', said the daily Liberation while the popular France-Soir trumpeted: 'Cleaned out'.

Polling institutes had the two conservative parties almost equal in percentage terms, with the Gaullists just under one percentage point ahead of the UDF. The UDF can be expected to try and drive a hard bargain in the few constituencies where the two did not field joint candidates, to push its representation closer to that of the Gaullists. The RPR, expected to take the greater number of seats, is likely to furnish the next prime minister, most probably Edouard Balladur, a former finance minister.

Apart from the sheer size of the conservative win, the main surprise was the poor performance of the two ecologist parties, allied for this election. Tipped to take up to 15 per cent, they gained only 7.7 with virtually no prospect, even after strategic Socialist withdrawals, of taking any seats.

The far-right National Front had 12.52 per cent, its best score in a parliamentary election but down more than two points on regional elections a year ago. The anti-immigration party did particularly well in the south of the country and was tipped to take two seats nationwide.

In Nice, Christian Estrosi, the main Gaullist deputy, who is angling to become the city's mayor, took 28.21 per cent to the 31.16 per cent won by Jacques Peyrat, his National Front opponent. Mr Estrosi will probably pick up the extra to beat Mr Peyrat next Sunday but the first-round result was a disappointment since he had said it was his personal goal to beat the National Front from the start.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front's leader, standing in another Nice constituency, took 27.49, ahead of the Gaullist Rudy Salles' 20.03. There too, the Gaullist should win once he picks up the votes of other parties.

The Nice elections had their bright side. Honore Bailet, the city's mayor, turned up to vote. This was his first appearance in public since 17 February when he left on holiday. He did not say why he did not resume his functions as planned.

The Communist Party took only 9.21 per cent, but its concentration in industrial areas should guarantee it about a dozen seats. Georges Marchais, the general-secretary, is one candidate who faces a difficult second-round battle.

Hamish McRae, page 25

(Photograph and graphic omitted)