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French left triumphs without a policy programme

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) – France’s Socialist party (PS) emerged triumphant from regional elections, but questions remained Monday over whether it is yet a coherent alternative government.

For a party that suffered a traumatic humiliation at the presidential election on April 21, 2002, the revenge over President Jacques Chirac was a moment to savour, and leaders quickly put it down to a new sense of purpose, union and direction on the left.

“(The victory) is the result of a new logic in which a whole section of the population is turning towards the left,” said PS spokesman Julien Dray.

“We are no longer in the post-April 21, but in the post-March 28. A page has turned. The left was able to rally together in its diversity. It is a collective victory,” he said.

A large part of the success was due to the fact that the traditional divisions between parties and personalities on the mainstream left were set aside during the campaign, while its electorate displayed a new-found sense of responsibility by shunning the Trotskyist extreme.

In the 2002 election, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin was beaten into third place by the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen largely because some 10 percent of left-wing voters opted for two far-left contenders – a debacle which subsequently provoked huge recriminations.

Inside the PS veteran big-hitters such as former prime minister Laurent Fabius and former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn subordinated their personal ambition to the common good, rallying around party leader Francois Hollande – whose authority has been greatly increased by the victory.

At the same time the party’s pre-2002 coalition partners – the Greens, Communist and Radicals – appeared to get over the bitterness that marked the left’s parliamentary defeat of that year, and struck a series of rancour-free local deals with the PS during the regional campaign.

The rout of Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) lit the hope that at the next electoral rendez-vous in 2007 the PS and its partners will be again ready to assume power, but even supporters of the left warned Monday that much work remains to be done.

The left concentrated its fire during the campaign on Prime Minister
Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s social and economic reform programme, which it claimed was undermining France’s generous welfare state. But leading figures in the PS all concede that some type of reform is essential: they have just not decided what.

Liberation newspaper said the PS could not claim to have won the election on the basis of an alternative programme of government – it was rather a vote of rejection against the incumbent centre-right – and it said there was now an obligation on the left to develop moderate and realistic new ideas.

The Socialist gains “could encourage a growing fringe of the party to take an exaggerated line in opposition, instead of working towards a reformist body of doctrine in phase with the new age of social-democracy,” it warned.

The left-leaning Le Monde newspaper agreed.

“(The left) must now carry through its own reconstruction by elaborating a programme whose clarity must be uncontestable, stopping the endless prevarication of a left split between an ill-loved social democracy and an anachronistic obsession with the working class,” it said.


                                         Subject: French news