All the ingredients are apparently there, but somehow the mayonnaise does not bind. François Mitterrand, with his usual tactical skill, is both the umpire of the upcoming National Assembly elections and the skipper of the Socialist side. The three leaders of the rightist coalition–the corpulent Raymond Barre, with his falsetto voice; Jacques Chirac, too obviously ambitious, with his Mussolini-like chin; and Valély Giscard d’Estaing, the affected aging actor hankering after past glory–are already so preoccupied with the presidential poll, to come in 1988 at the latest, that it is difficult to tell whether they are fighting one another or the left. Spending on political advertising has broken all records, and posters showing smiling candidates plaster the country. The French now know the latest Madison Avenue imperative: instead of "cheese" they say "wistiti sex.” Yet for all this wisdom and expense, there has been no passion in this campaign.
Some commentators blame President Mitterrand for the lack of passion. There is no tension, they argue, because there is so little at stake. In past elections, when the left was-in opposition, it seemed to offer a radical alternative. Now, after five years of Mitterrand, that alternative seems to have vanished. The choice is obviously between two shades of opinion on how best to manage a capitalist society. Serge July, the editor of Libétion, a trendy newspaper, sort of a daily Village Voice, has just published a book describing Mitterrand as a reluctant normalizer, whose great merit is that he has fitted France into the traditional Western mold. It is strange that a Socialist president should receive tributes for destroying the only radical option. When I suggested that Mitterrand’s proposed model for his party is no longer the social-democratic variety but the American Democratic Party, in The Nation of November 30,1985, I feared I would be sued for libel. I didn’t know I was taking the argument almost from the horse’s mouth. In July’s book the same statement is attributed to Jean-Louis Bianco, Mitterrand’s chief of staff.
The lack of passion may also be attributable to the new system of proportional representation. Under the old electoral law, each district elected one deputy. There were fierce individual battles, duels between gladiators in which prominent politicians might be felled. Under the new system each party’s national headquarters draws up a list of candidates, and voters may not interfere with the order of candidates on the list. So important politicians’ heads will not go on the block, because their position at the top of the list guarantees their election. Indeed, in four out of five districts the results.can be predicted in advance.
France is divided into ninety-six départements and has ten overseas districts. Under proportional representation there is, theoretically, one deputy for every 100,000 people. In practice, small départements–even those with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants–will elect at least two deputies. The largest, Paris and the North, will choose twenty-one and twenty-four deputies, respectively. Given, the method of calculating election results (too complicated to go into here) and the absence of a national compensation system like Italy’s, whereby small parties that score a certain percentage of the total vote are awarded at-large seats, proportional representation is biased in favor of the biggest parties–the Socialists and the conservative coalition. It is estimated that if the latter takes 43 percent of the vote, it will win a bare majority of seats in the National Assembly, 289 out of a total of 577.
With that background in mind, here is what to look for in the March 16 elections. The key test will be whether the conservative coalition, consisting of the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (R.P.R.), headed by Chirac, and the Union for French Democracy (U.D.F.), led by Giscard and Barre, can muster 45 percent of the vote, giving it a comfortable majority of 300 seats, enough to challenge the President-in the legislature. The Socialists’ target is 30 percent of the vote and 200 deputies. That showing would enable them to serve as a magnetic pole in the event that the "respectable" right does not gain a majority and enters into a coalition with the racist Jean-Marie Le Pen. For the Communists, who are predicted to win close to fifty seats, it is a matter of recovering from their dismal showing in the European Parliament elections two years ago, in which they took only 11 percent of the vote, a historic low for the party. Finally, Le Pen’s xenophobic National Front need not win much more than a dozen seats, say, 8 percent of the vote, to become a permanent sore on the French body politic. Its very presence has already poisoned the platforms of other parties.