Pessimism sinks green hopes: Ecologists blame right wing for poor showing

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ONE of the great mysteries of the first round of the National Assembly elections in France is why the ecologists did so poorly that they are unlikely to see a single candidate elected during next Sunday's run-off vote.

During the campaign the ecologists were the darlings of the French media, with opinion polls predicting that the alliance of Generation Ecologie and Les Verts would get 19 per cent of the vote, eclipsing the Socialists and altering the political landscape.

When the moment of truth arrived and voters were at the ballot box, many of their supporters got cold feet and switched support. Many of those who said they would vote for the ecologists changed their vote at the last minute for the right, (10 per cent) or for the Socialists (9 per cent). Still worse, many ecologist supporters were too apathetic to vote at all.

Even Brice Lalonde, the former environment minister and founder of Generation Ecologie, could not get elected in Paris despite being considered one of the most 'media-tique' candidates. Mr Lalonde, 46, who is half- Scottish, was bitter in defeat, blaming the failure of the ecologists on right-wing opportunists. These, he said, had confused the voting public by jumping on the ecologist band-wagon.

He acknowledged that the ecologists lacked a 'mature' image and that they did not have a clear strategy for the country. The main reason for their failure, and for that of the Socialists, is that they were unable to convince the electorate about their plan to reduce unemployment through job-sharing schemes.

Mr Lalonde's movement, GE, joined forces with the more radical Greens to fight on a common platform, but many voters were frightened away by the beards- and-sandals image of the Greens.

Nationally the ecologists received 7.63 per cent on Sunday, or 1.9 million votes, compared with 17.6 per cent for the Socialists and 39 per cent for the right.

The one bright spot for them was that Dominique Voynet, a national spokeswoman, did well enough in the first round of voting in her Dole constituency to have a fighting chance in the run-off on Sunday. Few expect her to be elected, however, given the strong tide of public opinion running in favour of the Gaullist and UDF parties.

Although the ecologists still have a hold on French public opinion, voters are collectively so pessimistic about their own and the country's future that they could not bring themselves to vote for the political newcomers. So deeply pessimistic are the French that 70 per cent of voters told the BVA polling firm that they are 'very worried for their personal and professional future'. The feeling is shared right across the political spectrum.