French prime minister seeks working majority with Parliament

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

``Cohabitation'' will continue in France - though in a less confrontational form. The term was used to describe Socialist President Fran,cois Mitterrand's uneasy rule with conservative Premier Jacques Chirac during the past two years. While the Socialists now occupy both posts, there are strong political differences between President Mitterrand and his newly-appointed Prime Minister Michel Rocard. Many analysts see a new modified form of cohabitation taking shape under the new administration.

Rocard, former minister of agriculture and a popular Socialist Party leader, supported Mitterrand for the elections - but he is to the right of the president, and not pro-Mitterrand.

His appointment appears a signal from Mitterrand of his intention to work with the current conservative Parliament, elected in March 1986.

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Rocard said unless the government is ``prevented from acting'' there will be no elections. This means the new premier's task of governing will be difficult. Perhaps uniquely suited to such a task, he is a rare advocate of Social Democratic pragmatism in a country which has been marked by sharply opposing right-left camps under the Fifth Republic.

A founding member of the radical Unified Socialist Party, Rocard moved toward the right of the Socialist Party mid-career. He is known for his commitment to worker self-management and decentralization, and was an early and strident critic of then President Mitterrand's nationalization program.

In the spring of 1985, when the government adopted a policy of proportional representation to limit the likely victory of the right wing in parliamentary elections, Rocard protested. He maintained such a change would boost the far-right candidate of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to new heights. He quit the government in disgust.

``Among the Socialists, he is the most qualified to practice a policy of openness,'' says conservative analyst Philipp Tesson. ``But he is also one of the least familiar with the art of compromise.''

While cohabitation between right and left over the past two years has greatly reduced certain tensions in the political world, problems remain. The key to a successful term for Rocard may be some center-right participation in his government.

Centrists say they will not systematically veto his government or take initiatives to bring the government down.

Since 1958, there has been no real political center to speak of, just a left and a right. For the first time, a new majority may be formed which has not been forthcoming from this left-right cleavage.

``We need a certain independence vis-`a-vis the new government,'' says Pierre Mehaignerie, the leader of the Center Social Democrats. ``We don't know what political choices Mitterrand will define.'' But he has not closed the door on cooperation.

Right-wing politicians in Chirac's Rally for the Republic Party have their own reasons not to call for new elections right away. Mr. Le Pen polled 14.4 percent of the vote in the April 24 presidential runoff election. This legacy will undoubtedly hurt conservatives the most in any new round of elections.

Rocard's biggest problems may come from within his own party. He and Mitterrand have a notoriously bad relationship. The President is said to consider the prime minister to be lacking in culture, while the new head of government has spoken of the President as incompetent.

Some analysts say Mitterrand has placed Rocard in this position to use him in a situation which looks like a no-win problem. Should Rocard be incapable of ruling, new elections will be held and perhaps a new prime minister will be chosen.

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