Election Surprises Galore

One of the virtues - and hazards - of the worldwide spread of democracy is the increased frequency of crucial elections ... and election surprises.

The pace and shape of European integration has seesawed markedly in recent weeks as a result of the British and first-round French votes.

The safety of the world's primary oil resources has improved a notch as a result of Iran's landslide May 23 vote for more sensible policies.

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As noted below, even rigidly controlled campaigns, like Indonesia's, may show citizen disillusionment with an authoritarian regime and foretell its eventual end.

First, France and Europe. After Tony Blair's resounding "new Labour" victory May 1, the course of European union seemed clearer. Germany, France, and others whose budget belts become sufficiently tight would be ready to join the first-round financial integration as scheduled in 1999. Mr. Blair's Britain would look more benignly on this core integration, and presumably be prepared to join at a not much later date.

Now, even before this weekend's second-round French vote, this tidy schedule has been thrown in doubt. So, perhaps, has the steadfast German-French relationship of recent years. If so, that's regrettable. The culprit: French President Chirac's indecision over how best to make the French economy grow.

We sympathize with French worry about Americanization of French culture - from movies to mass-produced cheese. But M. Chirac should have accepted the Anglo-US approach to economic growth, which has created more jobs, rising pay, and growing exports. That's in sharp contrast to France's high unemployment and resulting social problems.

It would be damaging for French voters to deal a second surprise in this weekend's vote by electing a leftist coalition. That would create problems for France's economy, for the pace of European integration, and for French-German accord.

We'll comment further on Iranian-Western relations in the near future. For the moment, let's just note that we have long pressed for a rethinking of the unproductive US boycott of Iran. The overwhelming vote of Iranians for more openness - in social, business, and political terms - provides an opening for such rethinking. Iran's recent moderation toward its Gulf neighbors, and its scorn for Islamic extremism in the former Soviet republics to its north, also bode well for world oil stability.

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