Alain Juppé Will Not
Continue as Prime Minister

Assembly Nationale Election

Visitors Angered by Strike at Louvre

by Ric Erickson

SPECIAL:- Paris:-Tuesday, 27. May 1997:- Alain Juppé, the Prime Minister of France, yesterday announced that he would not be seeking to resume a term at the Matignon, the Prime Minister's office in Paris.

This came as a surprise move, as the election campaign had focused on the battle between the sitting Prime Minister, Mr. Juppé, and would-be Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, leader of France's Socialist Party.

The Socialists and their Communist Party allies emerged as clear vote leaders in Sunday's balloting. While a triumph for Mr. Jospin; it was seen as a major defeat for President Chirac's RPR party and their UDF Party allies.

Mr. Juppé did not record a majority vote in his home Bordeaux district, and faces a run-off fight there Arch de Triomphe in next Sunday's second round of the elections. Until yesterday, it was assumed he would be re-named Prime Minister if the conservative parties won. He was also the conservative party's campaign manger.

This now means that Mr. Jospin will no longer be competing against a sitting Prime Minister. It is the President who chooses the Prime Minister and asks him or her to form a government. This cannot be done before the results of the current election are known.

The outgoing Prime Minister did not enjoy a high popularity rating - being considered a cold technocrat - and the wisdom of the President's choice of calling for new elections, rather than replacing the Prime Minister with a more popular figure, will probably be long debated.

In order to recover anything from the situation, the government has to produce a figure conservatives voters can rally to and they have to try and win the hearts of a majority of the 31 percent of voters who abstained last Sunday. They have four days in which to pull this off.

If the Socialists did well last Sunday, they are now on a roll. In Lionel Jospin they have a credible campaign manager who has proved he can get votes and who is looking more like Prime Minister material every day.

But the show is not over until the fat lady sings. The papers here were hinting at the weekend that President Chirac would take a direct role in the election this final week. If he drops his appeals for a new but vague 'élan' and can come up with some more compelling argument - and if French voters buy it, then he will have pulled off the hat-trick of the decade.

Opinion based on performance so far seems to indicate that this is a pretty remote possibility.

Voting in Paris

Before last Sunday's election, the RPR and the UDF had a near strangle-hold on seats in Paris' voting districts. After the smoke cleared Sunday, only two conservative candidates managed to keep their seats and all others are up for grabs next Sunday.

Even the mayor, Jean Tiberi, was not spared, and he faces a tough battle in his stronghold of the 5th arrondissement. (The voting districts do not correspond exactly to the territories of the 20 arrondissements in Paris.)

Exit Polls

Voters leaving polling stations told pollsters that jobs and unemployment were their main concerns; with this cited by 75 percent. The next biggest worry was education and job training and this was mentioned by 39 percent of those questioned.

A Correction About the Run-Offs

I wrote that the two top vote-getters get to go one-on-one in the final round of the elections. This was a mistake. Apparently, all candidates who get more than something like 12.5 percent of the vote in a district, go into the second round. In practice, this means that there will be some three-way races next Sunday.

Louvre Closed to 20,000 Visitors a Day

Monday marked the fifth day of the strike by guardians at the world's most popular museum - the Louvre. The night guards have been striking because two of their annual days-off have been stricken from the calendar - and they have now been joined by the daytime guards, according to a union spokesman.

The guards are outside the museum - which receives about 20,000 visitors a day at this time of year - explaining to a sometimes angry crowd, why they are on strike. The glass of the pyramid is plastered with signs saying 'strike' in six major languages.

While the strikers are facing the wrath of the museum's multinational public in person outside the museum, the museum's management has found time to Louvre Pyramid meet them for talks only twice since the conflict began last Thursday.

Waiting outside the Louvre's entry on a nice day, is still not as good as being inside.

The night-shift museum guards work 15 and one half hour shifts every other day, often underground in a 'sort of bunker.' For this their base salary is 5,900 francs a month. They are not asking for more money; they only want to keep their 28 days-off a year from being reduced to 26.

This translates into about a difference of 786 francs per year; if the worth of one shift is calculated at about 400 francs, or about 26 francs an hour.

If they have been unlucky enough to have arrived now, visitors do not understand why they cannot see the Louvre on what might be their sole lifetime visit. I do not understand the position of the museum's management; but it looks like this management does not understand very much either.

French Election Web Sites

See this week's regular election report.

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