French right on course to control new assembly


FRANCE: France's 41 million registered voters are called to the polls for the fourth time in two months tomorrow, with the knowledge that the die is already cast.

However the people vote, the right will hold both the presidency and the new National Assembly. The only question is how great the gap will be between the right-wing majority and its left-wing opposition.

After its poor showing in the first round on June 9th, the left hoped to mobilise the nearly 15 million voters - 35.5 per cent - who abstained. But opinion polls published in Le Figaro and Le Monde yesterday indicate it lost the gamble. An IPSOS poll for Le Figaro in the 198 of 577 districts where the result is still in doubt showed that 53 per cent will vote for the right, 47 per cent for the left.

Contrary to earlier predictions, first-round abstentionists - not the extreme right - will determine the outcome of the second round. Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front made it to the second round in only 37 constituencies, compared to 132 in the last election in 1997.

A SOFRES opinion poll for Le Monde showed that the highest absention rate was among the young: 46 per cent of French 18- to 24-year-olds and 51 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds did not vote last Sunday; 59 per cent of the unemployed did not vote. Nor did half of all workers, 51 per cent of those who voted for the Trotskyist candidate, Ms Arlette Laguiller, and 52 per cent of those who voted for Mr Le Pen.

Despite heroic efforts this week, the left cannot hope for a significant change of heart among abstentionists tomorrow. Only 25 per cent said they were sorry they had not voted and most of the regretful abstentionists said they felt closer to the right. The most oft-cited reason for abstaining was a lack of confidence in politicians.

Many left-wing voters did not vote because they were indoctrinated by their own leaders against "cohabitation". On the leading issue of crime, the socialist politician, Mrs Martine Aubry, advocated "more educators for the young" and "support networks" for the families of victims and delinquents; 55 per cent of left-wing voters say they approve of the right's more hard-line anti-crime measures.

And many voters believe the National Assembly simply does not matter. "People say, 'Why vote?' Bill Gates and Europe have more power'," said Mr Yves Cochet, a former minister and Green candidate.

French analysts speak of "civic exhaustion" because of the number of polls, and a "civic fracture" between older, well-integrated citizens who vote and younger French people on the margins of society who do not. The high abstention rate here - like the swing to the right - is representative of trends across Europe.

The socialists will probably postpone their party congress from November until next spring, while they consider their "ideological renovation". The former minister, Mr Claude Allègre, said the party leader, Mr Francois Hollande, was "the only one who is really fighting" and warned against a post-election repeat of the 1990 Rennes congress, when the socialist party split bitterly into factions.