Presidential Elections In France Defy Polls; Rightist Candidates Make Gains

By Jean-Louis Salfati, The Militant, Vol.59 no.19, 15 May 1995

PARIS—In a presidential election marked by the economic crisis in France and the beginnings of working-class resistance, Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin came out ahead in the first round with 23.3 percent of the vote. Paris mayor Jacques Chirac, one of the two candidates of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR), the principal capitalist party, came in second with 20.8 percent. Prime Minister Edouard Balladur of the RPR trailed with 18.6 percent. The two front-runners will confront each other May 7 in a second round.

The results were at sharp variance with predictions from opinion polls in the weeks leading up to the first round.

The election saw a large increase in the vote for the rightist candidates, who received a total of 20 percent of the vote.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the candidate of the fascist National Front, won 15 percent of the vote, his highest ever in a national election. Emphasizing France's 12.3 percent unemployment, Le Pen's campaign centered on scapegoating immigrants for widespread joblessness, re-establishing the death penalty, and fighting against corruption and the Maastricht Treaty. He proposed deporting 3 million immigrants over the next seven years and giving French-born workers priority in jobs.

Le Pen said he would preserve social benefits and retirement rights—for French citizens. He also proposed increasing the minimum wage to 7,000 francs a month from its present level of just over 5,000 francs.

A second far-right candidate, Philippe De Villiers, organized his campaign in defense of traditional French values, against corruption, and against the European Union. He received 4.8 percent.

In the Paris region, Le Pen received his highest totals in two working-class towns, Goussainville (24.5 percent) and Mantes-la-Jolis (22.5 percent). These were the two towns where a number of young women were expelled from high school in January following a government decree banning Islamic headscarves in the schools. A violent campaign by right-wing forces against the Islamic menace accompanied the government's action.

Le Pen also received significant votes in the north, the east, and in the Marseilles region, three areas hard hit by unemployment. In Marseilles, as well as in most surrounding towns, Le Pen placed first, sometimes receiving more than 30 percent of the vote. He also topped 30 percent in a number of cities in Eastern France where large steel mills have been closed. In the wealthy resorts on the French Riviera, Le Pen won 23.8 percent in Nice and 24.7 percent in Menton.

Elections occur as workers strike The election campaign took place as thousands of workers were taking strike action. For more than two months workers have shut down one company after another. Auto workers, postal workers, and railworkers all staged walkouts, as did workers at Air Inter, the tire producer Michelin, and museums in Paris. In most cases, strikers' central demands have been for higher wages, as a number of French companies began announcing hefty profits after years of layoffs and cutbacks.

During the campaign, both Chirac and Jospin promised to raise wages and take measures against unemployment. Jospin proposed reducing the workweek in two years from 39 to 37 hours.

Chirac launched his campaign in December by criticizing Balladur for having given in to strikers at Air France in 1993 and to the student demonstrations against the sub- minimum wage for youth in the spring of 1994. In response to the recent labor resistance, however, Chirac began pitching his campaign around the struggle against social exclusions—poverty and unemployment.

Chirac's campaign showed the problems that the capitalists in France have in putting forward a program to cut social gains, such as the minimum wage and the system of social security.

In February, former prime minister Raymond Barre withdrew from the race. He had urged the government to resist strikers' wage demands and called for deep cuts in social benefits. Barre quit after complaining of insufficient support for the radical measures he deemed necessary to restore the ailing French economy.

Among the other candidates in the election, the Communist Party's candidate, Robert Hue, received 8.6 percent, up from the party's 6.7 percent in the last presidential election. Hue called for a general wage increase of 1,000 francs a month.

Arlette Laguiller, candidate of the Trotskyist organization Lutte Ouvriere (Workers Struggle), received 5.3 percent, a sharp increase from the 1.9 percent she received seven years ago.

Her campaign proposed an emergency plan for workers, including a 1,500 franc monthly wage increase, a state-run public works project, massive hiring by government-run agencies, and a demand that the state seize any company that fires workers while they are making profits. No mention was made of the need to reduce the workweek.

The Green Party candidate, Dominique Voynet, received 3.3 percent of the vote.