French legislative election nears

Plastered with campaign posters, the art- nouveau lamppost outside the Villiers Metro station in northwestern Paris is a constantly changing reflection of France's coming legislative elections.

Hardly an hour goes by before the most prominent poster -- ranging from extreme- left to neofascist -- is rudely smothered by another of a different political calling. Yet with the particularly bitter electoral struggle between Socialists and the conservative's Union for the Majority (UNM) of the Giscard neo-Gaullist alliance, the Socialist posters somehow seem to survive the longest.

In the provinces, too, the Socialists are provocatively on the offensive with a vigorous and highly organized campaign. Huge billboards with blue, white, and red shaded pastoral backgrounds (ironically using the same motif as Valery Giscard d'Estaing had in the past) suggesting both security and patriotism, proclaim the need for change through the victory of the "New [left-wing] Majority."

Even the French Communist Party (PCF), which reached an electoral pact with the Socialists June 4, has held back on its customary assertiveness. Stressing the left-wing alliance, they refer to themselves on the posters only in small letters tucked away in bottom right-hand corners.

Although neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac has been noticeably present on the campaign trail by whisking around France in a Mystere 20 jet to lead UNM rallies or to speak with impassioned huskiness on radio and TV talk shows, the conservatives appear to be fighting a new war with old weapons.

Dire warnings by the right of economic disaster, rising inflation, and unrestrained unemployment have worked in previous legislative elections. But today under a left-wing regime they seem to ring hollow. Furthermore, there is the pronounced absence of former President Giscard d'Estaing and the uneasiness that exists between the two UNM partners.

Since his defeat May 10, Giscard has remained in virtual seclusion. Only in recent days has he emerged to support a local pro- Giscard UNM candidate in central France. Yet he has refrained from adopting a leading role.

The most recent public opinion polls indicate the Socialists may narrowly obtain the working majority they seek in order to push through President Francois Mitterrand's social and economic program. Out of the National Assembly's 491 seats the polls forecast a combined 248 for the Socialists and the Radical Left, their junior partners.

This suggests the Socialists may not even need the Communists to command a majority, as the PCF is expected to win only 48 seats compared to the 86 it held previously. The Giscardien and neo-Gaullists are expected to be left with 88 and 107 seats, respectively.

Such predictions are evidently very precarious and subject to voter reaction following the results of France's first-round ballot June 14. A surge in PCF support, for example, cold induce the left-leaning centrists to lurch back to the right in order to balance the danger of Communist ministers in government with a strong parliamentary opposition.

Not only can they count on the general swing to the left following Mitterrand's election, but also the government has already introduced a variety of social and economic reforms promised during the presidential campaign.

With more than 1.8 million jobless, i4 percent inflation, and a still-jittery business community hesitant to make new investments, the government has taken a gamble on promising voters that it will relaunch the economy and reduce unemployment.

The government introduced new measures June 10 including a $470 million financial assistance program to private enterprises undergoing expansion or diffic ulties, increases in agricultural benefits, and pledges to create new jobs. But in order to pay for these reforms and reduce France's $9.2 billion budgetary deficit, the government also announced a super-tax for the very rich, banks, and oil companies.

The program, however, will have to be passed by the country's new parliament in July. This means the Socialists must win a majority in the June 21 second-round elec tion if they are to proceed with their programs.

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