Regional Elections Turn Into Shambles

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Paris:- Saturday, 21. March 1998:- Last Sunday, voters in France went to the polls, to vote for the Councilors of 22 Regions and 96 Departments. These elections are called 'Les Régionales' and for the Departments, 'Les Cantonales.'

Last week I wrote here that Le Parisien thought its readers didn't know why they were voting or what they were supposed to vote for. After the event, the abstention rate was recorded as 42.5 percent.

A couple of Metropole readers wrote to say they didn't understand it either - and during the week, I found that I too was equally clueless.

Nationally, the coalition of centre-leftist parties won more votes - 41.3 percent - than the centre-right groups of parties - 34.9 percent. The extreme-right National Front party won 15.7 percent, which was one percent more than normal; and easily more than the extreme-left, which got 3.2 percent nationally. In the middle of the left-right scale, miscellaneous 'other' candidates got 5.2 percent.

The results of the elections for the Departments, 'Les Cantonales,' seem to have been of no importance because I can't find anything about them - so we are left with the 'Regionals,' which have assumed an importance I thought they might have - but not for the reasons I thought. [See Sunday Update below:]

These elections are run on a proportional basis, unlike elections for President or for the National Assembly. In the latter case, if three candidates are in the race and after the first balloting, none receives a clear majority, then there is a second round pitting the two top vote getters from the first round. In this way, the winner will have over 50 percent of the ballots when it is all over.

This proportional basis was not clear to me, and I mistakenly assumed there would be run-off races to select majority winners.

Instead, yesterday the second round of the 'Regionals' involved the vote by last Sunday's elected Councilors, for the Presidencies of the Regional Councils.

Now, if you look at the percentage figures above, you will see that Front National support could be crucial to a centre-right candidate for a post as Regional Council President.

Black Friday

Doing their own arithmetic, leader of the opposition, Philippe Séguin, and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, both made public statements during the week. The statements were essentially warnings to underdog centre-right RPR-UDF Regional Council Presidential candidates, not to make any deals to gain support from the Front National.

When outgoing Regional Council President of the Oise, Jean-François Mancel, RPR, announced acceptance of a 'minimum program' of Front National demands in return for their support, this one-time secretary-general of the RPR and party member of 32 years, was kicked out of the party by Séguin on Wednesday.

After Friday's voting of the Regional Councils, five centre-right candidates had been elected with Front National support.

There would have been six, but Jean-François Humbert, UDF,bookshop rue de l'odeon elected President of the Council of Franche-Comté with the aid of the Front National votes, resigned the post immediately after his election.

This week's theme photos are about the book salon, except for the one about 'fake' spring.

Because of the turmoil, five Regions suspended the voting on Friday and will take it up again on Monday. These included the Ile-de-France and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur, known as PACA - which is a relative Front National stronghold, as well as being the home base of the leader of the UDF, François Léotard.

After last Sunday's voting, the leftist group of parties had gained absolute or relative majorities in 10 Regions and the centre-right captured the same in seven, and the two factions were tied in four Regions. Compared to the results of 1992, the left had a net gain of eight Regions, a huge advance.

After yesterday's fiasco, the centre-left had gained the Presidency of exactly three Regions and had lost three due to the centre-right-extreme-right pacts. In two other Regions where the left had a majority, the voting was scheduled for Monday.

The Resistance vs Vichy

The RPR, the party of Charles de Gaulle, claims a direct historical and moral link to the war-time Resistance; and has been structured for 22 years as the heritage of Gaullism and liberalism.

As recently as September 1996, Alain Juppé, RPR, characterized the Front National as a group, 'almost viscerally racist, anti-semitic and xenophobe.' Now, says Libération, the house has been opened to the aggressive inheritors of the tradition of Pétain.

Although it is true that the Front National can poll 15 percent in a national election, if disaffected voters had some other choice, the FN would probably get seven percent, or about twice as much as the extreme left.

Recently, the Front National has had a good success with the fiction of an ideological split between its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and the party's number two, Bruno Mégret. This 'split' was nowhere in evidence during the week.

Given its extreme minority of voters, the blame for its relative success has to be accepted by the parties of the centre. In doing this, they have to face the fact that they have been strategically out-thought by Le Pen and Mégret.

Libération's one word headline today sums it up in no uncertain terms; "Shame!"

Meanwhile, On the Extreme Left

In the Ile-de-France, the 20-year domination by the centre-right RPR party seems to be at an end, with leftist parties having gained a slight lead. With 40 percent for the left, 37 percent forbook salon the right and 17 percent for the extreme-right FN, the Regional Council is going to be difficult to manage.

The French Communist Party's support of the Socialists opened, for the first time, the electoral door for the extreme-left. Arlette Laguiller, leader of the Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière, and 27 other extreme-left candidates, tripled their 1992 score, to elect three in the Ile-de-France. In total, 19 'LO' candidates were elected nationally.

A non-stop candidate for many years, Arlette Laguiller, who is now retired, paid a visit last Monday to the seat of the Reional Council in Paris. This is located in a building once owned by Roussel-Uclaf. She said her comrade, Jean-Louis Gaillard, also elected, knew the building well as a result of having occupied it during several strikes.

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