French Parliamentary Elections

March 3, 1978

Report Outline
Uncertainty in Left-Right Muddle
Postwar Political Alignments
Factors in the Coming Elections
Special Focus

Uncertainty in Left-Right Muddle

Prospect of Stalemate in March Voting

For the past year the news from France has been dominated by the prospect of a left-wing victory in the parliamentary elections to be held March 12 and 19. An alliance of Communists and Socialists triumphed in two-thirds of the country's larger municipal elections last March, and until the alliance (“Union of the Left”) fell apart in September much of the political commentary was voiced in tones of alarm, looking upon a leftist victory in the coming elections as virtually assured. Since then uncertainty has replaced assuredness. For if the political left is divided, so too is the present governing majority, a center-right coalition led by Gaullists and Independent Republicans. It is being said that each side, left and right, hopes the other will be sufficiently discredited to ensure a backlash vote.

Analysts currently see the distinct possibility of a political stalemate after the two rounds of voting. All 491 seats in the National Assembly are up for election, as they are every five years under terms of the constitution adopted in 1958 forming the Fifth Republic. President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing emphatically has said he will not resign if the left takes control of the National Assembly and presents the nation with a divided government. Under France's mixed parliamentary-presidential system, the president is elected separately by popular vote and Giscard's seven-year term does not end until 1981.

While opinion polls indicate that the split between the Communist and Socialist parties has not affected their popular support, this support can be translated effectively into parliamentary seats only if voters of one party are willing to back a leading candidate of the other in the second — “runoff” — election. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes in the first election, and this happens frequently in a political system fragmented by a multitude of parties, then a second election is held in which the splinter-party candidates have been eliminated. The Communists have not yet said whether they would support Socialist candidates in the second round on March 19. The Gaullists and “Giscardiens” — the president's backers — routinely support each other's candidates in the second round.

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