West's Troubled Trio

IT would be unwise to make too much of the convergence of troubled leaderships just now in three pillars of Western democracy - the United States, Britain, and France. But it also would be unwise to make too little of it.

The woes of British Prime Minister John Major and US President Clinton have some uncanny parallels. Both should be buoyed by good economic news: Inflation and unemployment are down, and each economy is growing nicely. Yet both leaders are tremendously unpopular in the polls. Mr. Major's numbers - 70 percent in a recent Gallup survey said they were dissatisfied with him - are the lowest in polling history. Mr. Clinton's numbers are the lowest for any president in more than a decade.

Both leaders must contend with constant rumors of challenges from within their own party. With Major's expulsion of eight ``rebel Tories'' for not backing him on a key vote, he now heads a technically minority government, with Conservatives outnumbered by other parties. That matches Clinton's challenge in working with the new Republican Congress. Major sees popular Labour Party leader Tony Blair across the aisle and a 1997 (or sooner) election looming; Clinton must contend with combative House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich and 1996 elections.

In France, President Francois Mitterrand steps down in May. The front-runner in polls, Socialist Jacques Delors, announced Dec. 11 that he would not run. The suddenly shaken campaign picture now will likely resolve itself into a battle between two right-of-center candidates, Prime Minister Edouard Balladur and Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac.

If Mr. Delors, who is finishing 10 years as head of the European Commission, had been elected president, he would have formed a strong tandem with Germany's Helmut Kohl to push toward a united Europe. The next French president must prepare for a 1996 conference to renew the Maastricht treaty. The French are generally favorably disposed toward the European Union. But without Delors's leadership, they may fall to squabbling over the particulars.

The political convulsions in the US, Britain, and France are not beyond what can be expected in mature democracies. But they will tend to draw the attention of each government and its citizens inward.

At a time when international developments, such as the Bosnia tragedy, so need constant attention, that is a troubling thought.

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