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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
Analysis: Chirac on course
President Jacques Chirac
Chirac's call to end "cohabitation" has worked

So far it is all going to plan for French President Jacques Chirac.

As he hoped, the electorate has given the parties that support him a resounding lead in Sunday's first round of the parliamentary election.

UMP supporter celebrates
It was good day for Chirac supporters
If the results are maintained in the decisive second round next Sunday, the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) and the smaller Union for French Democracy (UDF) will enjoy a majority of as many as 300 seats over the left in the 577-member National Assembly.

The president and his government, led by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, will then have a clear five-year run to introduce the reforms they say the country needs to cut crime, free up the economy and modernise the administration.

Everything suggests that the electorate has heeded their calls not to paralyse the country with a new period of "cohabitation" between a right-wing presidency and a left-wing parliament, but to give them the powers they need.

Indeed everything about the lifeless campaign that preceded Sunday's vote suggests that most French voters regarded the essential as having already been decided when Mr Chirac won his massive re-election victory a month ago.

In the words of Jean-Luc Parodi, director of the French Political Studies Centre Cevipof: "It is a return to the logic of the Fifth Republic, a return to the logic of a coherent majorioty, the defeat of cohabitation."

Smart moves

Since his 5 May triumph, President Chirac has had a good hand and he has played it well.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Jean-Pierre Raffarin brought a non-Parisian perspective
He accelerated the formation of his new party, the UMP, to give a new sense of unity to a traditionally disjointed centre-right.

His appointment of Mr Raffarin, a little-known senator from the provinces, was a clever touch, suggesting a determination to break away from the despised Paris-based elites.

And by naming the hardline Nicolas Sarkozy as interior minister, he showed he had understood the anxieties over rising crime that prompted Jean-Marie Le Pen's shock victory in the presidential first round.

The low score of Mr Le Pen's National Front in the parliamentary first round - just 11% - shows the message has got through.

Socialist disarray

Meanwhile the left is in pieces.

Though it loudly denounced the new government for being image-obsessed and warned of an over-concentration of powers in the right, the Socialist Party has no idea what it stands for now, or who is to lead it after Lionel Jospin's retirement.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen's National Front could only poll 11%
It knows at heart that a period in opposition is necessary before it can make a comeback.

With all this going for it, all the centre-right has had to ensure is that it doesn't foul up.

So far, it hasn't - and next Sunday it looks set for a major victory in the second round of voting.


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07 Jun 02 | Europe
05 Jun 02 | Europe
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