France expects a snap election


PARIS - Election fever gripped France yesterday as speculation mounted that the conservative President, Mr Jacques Chirac, would announce a snap general election today to clear the decks in the drive for a single European currency.

Opinion polls showed voters would approve of bringing forward the poll, which is not due until next March, and predicted a close battle. Amid apparently orchestrated leaks by pro-government politicians, Mr Chirac's office remained tight-lipped except to deny a report in the daily Le Monde that the President was planning a sharp shift towards free-market economic policies.

Political sources said he would go on television today to call a two-round election on May 25th and June 1st or June 1st and 8th. Le Monde said the Prime Minister, Mr Alain Juppe, would set out campaign policies tomorrow, including a new round of austerity to help France qualify for European Monetary Union.

Mr Lionel Jospin, the leader of the opposition Socialists, told TFI television that a snap election would amount to an admission of defeat for the ruling coalition. "If the government had any confidence in the success of its policy, it would calmly wait for elections in a year," he said.

The centre-right has an overwhelming 478 of the National Assembly's 577 seats following a landslide defeat of a Socialist government in 1993. The presidency, however, would not be directly affected by the vote. Mr Chirac was elected in 1995 and has another five years to serve.