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
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
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
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. …