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Reds Stomp Cons

photo: cafe terrace, closed sunday

Not all terraces are open on Sundays.

''It's a Nightmare!''

Paris:– Monday, 29. March 2004:– Last night, within an hour of the closing of the polls, France's electoral map changed from mostly blue to nearly entirely red – or rose, as the Socialists would prefer.

France–2's election night coverage repeatedly reported wins for the Socialists with their leftist and Green allies one after another, until the score for the regional elections was 20 to one in favor of the left. This morning Le Parisien gave the rose camp a score of 20 regions, leaving the right–wing in control of only one region, Alsace.

Corsica's final result remained uncertain after a heavy voter turnout of almost 75 percent. Here the government's UMP candidate was in the lead with 25.05 percent of the votes cast, but facing six opposition candidates with the other 74.95 prcent.

The rose tidalwave also captured three out of four overseas regions.

In the last regional elections in 1998, the right–wing won control of 14 regions and the left, eight.

Voter turnout for the second–round voting yesterday was 65.4 percent of registered voters, compared to 62.1 percentphoto: socialist huchon, ile de france who voted a week earlier. The mild and sunny spring–like weather did not deter voters from expressing their opinions.

After the slap given to the government's candidates in the first–round voting a week ago, yesterday's vote was the equivalent of a knockout blow.

Despite a lousy poster position, Huchon wins in Ile–de–France region.

Président Jacques Chirac now has to consider whether to dump Prime Minister Raffarin – who saw his 'home' region snatched from his long–time grasp by Ségolène Royal, a Socialist, with a score of 55 percent.

Mr Chirac has a couple of major problems. No government minister who was competing in the regional elections won yesterday, which means that if he wants to replace the Prime Minister, he is very short of likely candidates. A snap poll made by Le Parisien after the balloting, gave the highest but a lukewarm score to Nicolas Sarkozy, the present Minister of the Interior.

The rout was so complete that even former Président Valéry Giscard d'Estaing lost his seat in the Auvergne, where he has been a power since 1956, to an almost unknown Socialist, Pierre–Joël Bonté.

In Paris–Ile de France, despite all the heavy guns the government threw into the battle, Jean–Paul Huchon was reelected with a score of 49.2 percent. The Front National's star, Marine Le Pan, had to settle for 10.1 percent of the ballots, which certainly detracted from the 40.6 percent gained by the right–wing's candidate, Jean–François Copé.

In Alsace, only in Alsace – the right's UMP candidate Adrien Zeller edged out the rose camp by nine points with the aid of the dissident UDF party, and will probably be able to control the region despite the high Front National score of 22 percent.

This was the best the FN could do in France. For all regions, the FN's average score has been estimated at 12.9 percent, down several points from their 1998 score.

In Paris – a city, a department and part of the Ile de France region – leftist parties won majoritiesphoto: tuileries pool, arc carrousel in 13 arrondissements, adding to the left's domination in the Ile de France. Disaffected researchers in the traditionally rightist 5th arrondissement helped push its majority to the left. Overall, the FN lost two points in the city from last Sunday to this Sunday, getting only 6.1 percent yesterday.

Voters taking it easy after a hard day at the polls.

The final score for all France attributed 50 percent of the vote to the Socialists and their left–leaning allies, 38 percent to the right–wing, and 12.8 percent for the ultra–right–wing Front National.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Including Corsica, there 22 regions in France, plus four others overseas. Regions are formed by groups of departments, and are gaining in importance because of recognition by the European Union and attempts at decentralization by the national government in Paris.

But, as former Socialist Minister of Finance, Laurent Fabius put it, as decision–making competence is transferred from the central government to regions, the money isn't.

The two–ballot system for voting in regional elections has been revised to give 25 'bonus seats' to leading candidates so that coalitions would be less likely to be necessary, which had been the case in the past. Only candidates who get more than ten percent of the vote in the first round compete in the second and final round of balloting.

Why the Left Won

Right–wing parties still have a large majority of deputies in the Assembly National, won in the national elections in 2002 that returned Jacques Chirac to the office of Président of France. The centre–right also controls the Senat.

But the elections in 2002 were marred by a miscalculation by voters. In the first–round of voting they gave a slight edge to National Front leader Jean–Marie Le Pen, which eliminated Socialist Lionel Jospin as a presidential candidate. For the second–round, leftist voters had no choice but to support Jacques Chirac – in order to deny Le Pen power.

This came after a period of so–called 'cohabitation,' composed of Chirac as a right–wing Président, with a legislature run by the Socialists and their allies, including Communists and Greens.

Since the right–wing has been back in power they have been busily 'reforming' France's encrustedphoto: towards concorde, tuileries methods of operation, with the goal of creating a France that has a conservative ideology – one that is supposed to be more in tune with free–market capitalism and mondo–globalization.

In the Tuileries on Sunday.

The problem with this is, a majority of French voters didn't vote in 2002 for right–wing methods of achieving this goal. Many in France – excepting the traditional ten to 15 percent of ultra right–wing voters who would prefer turning France back into something it never was – agree that 'reforms' are necessary.

But to a majority of the French, 'reforms' are not synonymous with reducing or cutting back social benefits gained only with difficulty over a long period of time.

Many residents of France have been adversely affected by the 'reforms' instituted over the last two years by the government, led by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Just to cite one example, a quarter–million unemployed had their benefits reduced to nothing on 1. January of this year – with nothing immediately in place to take up the slack.

'Reform' of unemployment benefits is a major goal of the French employer's federation – which seems to be heard clearly by the right–wing government. More 'reform' in this area brought on conflict with the performers and technicians who work in the entertainment sector – which caused last summer's cancellation of many important festivals in France. This conflict remains unresolved.

Last night, politicians arriving for their turn in front of the TV cameras of France–3, found themselves being greeted by the still–active entertainment–industry strikers.

Currently at odds with the government and its 'reforms' are teachers, hospital workers, scientists and researchers, and firefighters – who demonstrated in Paris on Thursday, while talks failed that would have allowed them to retire at 55 because they have 'dangerous jobs.'

When the firemen heard that the talks had gotten nowhere, they scuffled with the CRS anti–mutiny police – who may have the classification of 'dangerous jobs.'

What's Jacques To Do?

As of tonight, the indications are that the Président will retain Jean– Pierre Raffarin as Primephoto: pont alexandre, peniches Minister. There has been a lot of coming and going between the Matignon where the Prime Minister works, and the Elysée Palace, where the Président presides.

The Pont Alexandre III – the 'Bridge of the Week.'

As one of France–2's reporters put it, 'Raffarin wants to continue with the 'unpopular' reforms.' If this is the case, it is an obvious indication that he has no intention of ever running for the office of Président of France – because he has enough of a majority in the Assembly National to bulldoze the 'reforms' through – against the will of a majority of the French.

So there are no firm decisions tonight. At the Elysée Palace, it is thought that the necessary announcements need to be made no later than Thursday because of a presidential trip. Mystery reigns at Matignon.

One right–wing spokesman summed it all up. "It's a nightmare for the right." For everyone else, it's wait–and–see.

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