- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

PARIS President Jacques Chirac, basking in the biggest election victory in French history, moved quickly yesterday to appoint a prime minister to head a caretaker government until parliamentary elections next month.

One day after trouncing his opponent, Jean-Marie Len Pen, with 82 percent of the vote, Mr. Chirac appointed Jean-Pierre Raffarin his prime minister.

Mr. Raffarin, a 53-year-old little-known senator and former junior minister, played a key role in Mr. Chirac's campaign. He will replace Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister who resigned after his failed bid for the presidency.

Mr. Raffarin was immediately assigned the tasks of drawing up the list of ministers for the new government and then playing point man for Mr. Chirac's center-right battle to win the parliamentary elections scheduled in five weeks.

The relief at Mr. Chirac's victory against Mr. Le Pen in Paris was palpable on the streets of the "City of Light" yesterday after two weeks of uncertainty between the rounds of presidential voting.

"It is one of huge relief," said Amandine Bruneel, 24, a journalism student and Chirac supporter who hopes he will be able to govern the nation without being "saddled" by a Socialist prime minister after elections next month.

"When you look at Europe's past, at the dark years of the war, I was truly frightened, and so were most of the people at school, when we saw Le Pen and his anti-Semitic xenophobia, his anti-immigrant views, his promises of job reservation for whites, rise into the political limelight like that. I know of lots of Jews my parents' age who were making plans to pack up off to Quebec or the United States.

"Le Pen's rise, coupled with recent attacks on synagogues, has created a real feeling of unease among the Jewish community these days."

Under France's constitution, presidents have sweeping authority if they have the support of the National Assembly, but without it they are forced to cohabit with a hostile prime minister, and their powers are strictly limited.

A CSA poll issued Sunday evening showed that center-right parties that support Mr. Chirac would win a 295 seats, against 258 for Mr. Jospin's outgoing ruling socialist coalition.

The respected daily Le Monde, which joined other French papers last week in an open campaign to ensure Mr. Chirac's victory, described Sunday's vote as a vote for Europe and its currency, the euro, and its institutions.

But, it cautioned, the 15-nation European Union and its executive commission has to heed the public concerns of what Mr. Le Pen calls "Euro-globalization," which drew him more than 5 million votes and attracted others to back far-right politicians in Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Italy.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed Mr. Chirac's victory as a "victory for democracy, and a defeat for extremism and the repellent policies Le Pen represents."

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