French President Jacques Chirac took 82 percent of the votes in yesterday's presidential run-off contest against Jean-Marie Le Pen, causing the left-leaning Paris daily Libération to lead its front cover with the gigantic headline, "Ouf"—"Phew!" Le Parisien declared, "France Has Won." Still, Chirac received few plaudits for his two-week transformation from the sitting president with the smallest first-round vote tally to the winner of the largest second-round margin of victory. According to the Times of London, "France has voted against something but for absolutely nothing. M Chirac has obtained the most empty landslide in democratic history." Le Monde said, "[T]he second round … was transformed into a veritable referendum against Jean-Marie Le Pen," after politicians from across the ideological spectrum encouraged their followers to "hold their noses" and vote for Chirac. Le Figaro agreed it was "plebiscite for the republic."
For some commentators, Le Pen's 18 percent showing was depressing. A columnist in Britain's Guardian observed, "Even after two weeks of mass mobilisation against the threat to French democracy, his support held remarkably steady." The Financial Times echoed, "[T]o see so many French voters opting for an ageing anti-immigrant populist with an incoherent economic policy should still sound a loud alarm in all the chancelleries of Europe." Why did almost one in five voters cast their ballots in his favor? An op-ed in the Daily Telegraph said you just had to hear him speak to understand: "Le Pen's discourse is rich in symbolism, spiritual and moral, evocative of past glories and urgent with apocalyptic warnings. It is the antithesis of the technocratic jargon of the mainstream politicians. Where the latter speak to the head, Le Pen speaks to the heart. If Chirac treats France like an unfaithful husband, Le Pen woos her like a romantic lover."
Chirac named Jean-Pierre Raffarin to serve as interim prime minister until the June 9 and 16 parliamentary elections, replacing Lionel Jospin, who resigned Monday. The Financial Times paid a fond farewell to Jospin, who voted by post Sunday "to avoid the cameras and the possible humiliation of being seen to back Jacques Chirac." The piece declared, "[T]here is something tragic about a politician who has run his country with integrity and competence for five years, then so abruptly disappears from the scene."
The June elections have now taken on extra significance; Spain's El País dubbed them a "virtual third round [of presidential elections]." If the socialists turn out in force to assuage their guilt for splitting the leftist votes in the first round of presidential voting and win a majority in parliament, France would be doomed to five more years of "cohabitation," with the president and the parliament pursuing contrasting political agendas. Le Monde concluded: "We know what the French rejected in the second round. We don't yet know who, how, and by whom they wish to be governed. Tune in June 16."