`Prudent' Conservatives Set to Take Reins in France Right Prepares for Difficult Two Years - and a Race for President in 1995

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FRANCE'S conservative and center-right parties may have won an unprecedented 80 percent of parliamentary seats in Sunday's elections, but more telling of the state of politics and the public mood in France than the victory itself is the measured, almost downbeat, tone set by the new French leadership.

France's humbled leaders sense that the public holds politics and its problem-solving abilities in very low esteem, and they are acting accordingly.

When the "rose wave" of Francois Mitterrand's Socialists swept over the country in 1981, the French danced and kissed in the streets until dawn, and the air hung ripe with promises of a transformed society. Twelve years later, a group of conservatives proposed a celebratory march up the Champs-Elysees, but was thwarted by party leaders who had in mind polls showing that French voters were not so much embracing the right as punishing the party that had promised them so much.

"People will have noticed that despite the amplitude of our victory we have been prudent," says Nicolas Sarkozy, a leader in the Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) of Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac. "We have the experience of a Socialist Party that promised the French people so much, like the creation of a million new jobs. We are seeing what that reaps."

France's new right-wing leadership is so eager to express moderation and humility as it assumes power that last week's spate of chest-thumping demands for Mr. Mitterrand's resignation has all but ceased. Those calls followed the first round of voting March 21, which promised an antagonistic relationship between a left-wing president - who does not face election until 1995 - and a right-wing government.

Although it was primarily RPR leaders, including Mr. Chirac, who fired the guns against Mitterrand last week, Sunday's victory and anticipation that Mitterrand will name RPR leader Edouard Balladur as prime minister this week prompted the new tone.

The RPR and center-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) of former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing together took 470 of the National Assembly's 577 seats, giving them the largest majority in modern French history. The Socialists lost 200 seats, falling to 75, and the Communists remained almost stable at 25 seats. The far-right National Front lost the one seat it held in the previous assembly. Lack of enthusiasm

While France's lack of ardent enthusiasm in the face of such an unambiguous victory may seem curious, it has a number of meanings beyond a simple lack of faith in politics. …