French Say `No' to Traditional Political Parties Ruling Socialists Lose a Third of Their Voters, as Ecologists and the Extreme Right Find Roots. REGIONAL ELECTIONS

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 24, 1992 | Go to article overview

French Say `No' to Traditional Political Parties Ruling Socialists Lose a Third of Their Voters, as Ecologists and the Extreme Right Find Roots. REGIONAL ELECTIONS


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


DEMOCRACY yes, politics as usual no, they say.

By voting in much larger numbers in regional and local elections Sunday than most experts had predicted, French voters summarily debunked theories that they are estranged from the democratic process.

What they are tired of, their votes say, is the conventional politics that the traditional parties of power, and especially the reigning Socialists of President Francois Mitterrand, are offering.

Results yesterday showed the traditional right-wing parties, the Gaullists and the Union for French Democracy, with 33 percent, several points below past scores. The Socialists fell to 18 percent, a loss of about one-third of their traditional support.

In contrast, the ecologists' support jumped to nearly 15 percent - almost evenly divided between the Greens and Gration Ecologie of Environment Minister Brice Lalonde. The extreme-right National Front (FN) of Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant, anti-establishment, "France-first" philosophies dominated the campaign, garnered just under 14 percent.

Although the elections were for regional and local offices, most ears are now tuned to the Elysee presidential palace awaiting Mr. Mitterrand's response to an election where less than 1 voter in 5 supported the political party he built. Will he replace Prime Minister Edith Cresson? Call early legislative elections? Push for a proportional representation system to be adopted in national elections as a means of denying the right a clear governing majority?

"We must see the emergence of {new} political forces and we must accept it," said Mrs. Cresson, speaking on French television. Insisting she would retain her office, she nevertheless evoked "a very different situation from the past" where untested coalitions will be necessary.

Indeed the big surprise for many observers was that so many French felt that they had a message to deliver through the ballot box. Nearly 7 out of every 10 people went to the polls, whereas political analysts and poll takers had estimated that participation would drop to 50 percent or less.

"By expressing themselves in much higher numbers than expected, the French have shown that they hold deeply to the democratic process," says Dominique Voynet, a spokeswoman for the Greens.

Yet just 1 of every 2 voters chose a candidate from the traditional governing parties down from a ratio of 3 to 4 as recently as the late 1980s. …

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