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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Ballot: Alienation, Not Conservativism

Like mighty statues toppling from their plinths, the illustrious leaders of the 1980s are crashing to the ground. In less than three years, we have seen the destruction of Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush. None went willingly.


Now it is the turn of President Francois Mitterrand of France. The electoral annihilation of his Socialist Party last weekend has left him lonely figure in the Elysee Palace. His second seven-year term does not expire until 1995, but he is a king ruling against his people's wishes.


One political observer in Paris, Dominique Moisi, compares him with Louis XVI, confined in the Tuileries after the failure of his escape attempt at Varennes in 1791. In 1793, Louis perished at the guillotine.


Before it buries Mitterrand, however, the French right should reflect on what message the voters have sent. Was it really a ringing endorsement of a conservative political program? Surely not. The conservative's share of the first-round ballot on March 21 was less than 40 percent.


Numerous votes went to protest parties such as the far-right National Front and the ecologists. As in other Western democracies, the French elections confirm that millions of ordinary people are disgusted and alienated by their country's traditional political parties.


The socialists and the right alike may think that the results reflect inevitable punishment for a government that failed to cure a recession and allowed unemployment to rise above 10 percent.


But the source of the electorate's discontent was moral as well as economic. Scandal and disgrace have plagued French politics in recent years. The Socialist mayor of Angouleme presided over his city's bankruptcy, then fled to Buenos Aires to open a restaurant. Various notables fell victim to the affaire over the sale of HIV-contaminated blood. Even Pierre Beregovoy, the outgoing Prime Minister, was made to look less than holy when it was discovered that he had accepted an interest-free loan from a man later accused of insider trading.


Similar scandals have come to light in Spain, not to mention Italy, where they threaten to demolish the entire post-1943 political establishment. The message is that Western European politicians have become too haughty and too contemptuous of the people in whose name they purport to rule.


Michel Rocard, the Socialist's heir apparent to Mitterrand, reacted to his party's defeat by promising again to launch a "big bang", a project to abolish the traditional left and create a new coalition of progressive political forces. But to many French voters, it just looks like old wine in new bottles.