Suspense without passion is France’s strange electoral mood for the moment. President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s advisers are both perturbed and fundamentally optimistic. They have begun to be worried because what once looked like a mismatch and a walkover 1s now presented by opinion polls as too close to call If the President’s men remain nevertheless confident–and if the Paris Bourse is still quietly indifferent–it is because they are all relying on the divisions of the left and on Communist tactics to insure Giscard d’Estaing’s re-election. To put it bluntly, they are banking on Communist Party leader Georges Marchais.
In a country evenly split between left and right it may seem strange that the very idea of a conservative landslide was ever contemplated, what with the suicide of a minister involved in a land scandal and the disclosure of gifts of diamonds to Giscard d’Estaing by the bloody Emperor Bokassa throwing a sinister light on the Presidency. Diamonds, particularly when their awkward origin is splashed on the front page of Le Monde, are not a President’s best friend, yet the real reasons for the political difficulties of Giscard d’Estaing lie deeper than scandal. After his narrow victory In 1974, Giscard d’Estaing could parade briefly as a champion of reform, lowering the voting age to 18, or liberalizing the antiquated anti-abortion laws. The illusion, however, did not last The economic crisis rapidly revealed that, whatever his "centrist" disguise, Giscard d’Estaing’s wallet was unquestionably on the right. Under his reign France has the greatest social inequality in Europe.
With a heavy deficit in foreign trade, double-digit inflation, some 1.7 million unemployed now and the prospect of 2.5 million in the not so distant future, the prospects were good for a Giscard d’Estaing defeat. Indeed, back in 1977 everything seemed set for a sweeping victory of the left In the parliamentary elections, until the Communists, presumably having grasped the gravity of the economic crisis, decided that serving as junior partners to the Socialists in the ruling coalition and having to keep "social peace" in the factories was not for them. The right thus had victory thrust upon it, and Giscard d’Estaing emerged as the apparently undisputed king.
Nothing fails like failure. While the Communists were slinging mud at their ex-partners and the Socialists were wondering whether to ditch their leader, François Mitterrand, in favor of newcomer Mlchel Rocard, the stock of the left dropped dramatically. Since their votes no longer seemed to matter, many left-wingers felt they could only express their disgust by voting for Coluche, the professional clown who is a bona fide candidate. The mood, however, altered when the Socialist candidate became credible again last November, after a series of parliamentary by-elections. In the second round, when the strongest candidates slug it out, the cohesion of respective coalitions is tested. Two significant trends emerged: the bulk of the Communist electorate voted for the left-wing candidate, whatever the party line, and, by the same token, some Gaullist voters switched to the Socialists rather than go with the Giscardien.
As a result, Mitterrand, ultimately picked by the Socialists as their champion, made a spectacular recovery in opinion polls. One began to wonder whether he might not benefit from the divisions of the left and from the Communist onslaught. According to some analysts, Communists would vote for him despite their party’s insults, while undecided voters would because of them. When Mitterrand began to look like a potential winner, the Communists rallied to Giscard d’Estaing.