French election humiliation piles pressure on Chirac
PARIS: Pressure mounted on French President Jacques Chirac on Monday to fire his prime minister and shake up the government after opposition Socialists dealt his conservative camp a humiliating defeat in regional polls.
Sunday’s election results were a worst-case scenario for Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin as the left won in nearly all of France’s 26 regions and trounced all cabinet ministers running for regional council seats.
The outcome, with the left winning 50 percent of the vote against 37 percent for the centre-right, raised doubts about the government’s commitment to ambitious economic reforms such as cost-cutting in the public health system.
But with three years left to his presidential mandate, the unpredictable Chirac could ask Raffarin to soldier on with a reshuffled cabinet to push through reforms sweetened by a few concessions to public opinion, analysts added.
“Jacques Chirac has time on his side, but the pressure will be very hard to bear in the next few weeks,” said pollster Pierre Giacometti. “Everybody’s wondering about Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s future,” Europe 1 radio commented.
Some commentators saw the defeat as such a setback that they mentioned the possibility of an early general election. “Sunday’s vote was directly aimed at Jacques Chirac, who the country has in fact asked...to dissolve the National Assembly,” said the business daily La Tribune. The left-wing Liberation went a step further and called for a general election. —Reuters