- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2007

PARIS — The Communists may have to sell their headquarters to stay afloat. The Socialists are in denial about their decay. Paris’ lefty Left Bank is plastered with posters for the ruling right.

But the worst blow for France’s once-powerful and now flailing left is expected today and next Sunday, when voters appear set to hand a resounding parliamentary majority to pro-market President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party.

The vote is crucial for his plans to cut taxes, squeeze out illegal immigrants and erode the unions’ power to strike, and his leftist rivals fear France is heading toward a “Sarko state” in which the determined, tough-talking, U.S.-friendly leader will enjoy sweeping power.

The question isn’t whether the once-governing Socialists will fare poorly, but how badly they will do — and what lessons they will draw from their defeat. Many say the party is long-overdue for a shift toward the center, where more and more European leftists are congregating in the face of increasingly borderless free markets.

Even Socialist Segolene Royal, who has remained defiantly upbeat since she lost the presidential race to Mr. Sarkozy last month, conceded last week: “We must be realistic.”

Leftist egalitarian ideals and a protective government underpin modern France, but opinion polls indicate the new 577-seat National Assembly will be even more dominated by Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party than the outgoing one.

Surveys predict UMP will win between 370 and 430 seats — up from its current 359 and far above the 289 lawmakers needed for a majority. The Socialists are forecast to win between 110 and 140 seats, down from the current 149.

The fractured centrists — many of whom have now rallied to Mr. Sarkozy — are likely to retain 20 to 30 seats. The Communists may get fewer than 10, and the Greens just hope to hang on to two or three. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far right National Front party isn’t expected to make it into the assembly at all.

The new body may have a few more women, after Miss Royal’s failed bid to become France’s first female president called attention to parliament’s male-heavy cast and boosted the profile of female politicians. It may also have one or two more minorities. In the outgoing parliament, all lawmakers from mainland France were white.

The central question in the legislative campaign, coming on the heels of Mr. Sarkozy’s six-point victory over Miss Royal on May 6, has been the fate of the Socialists.

“They are already defeated,” said Gerard Grunberg at the Institute of Political Sciences. “The priority is to start to reflect on the role of socialism in a globalized world and individualized society.”

Recent years have seen blow after blow for a Socialist Party that has played a major role in French politics since Francois Mitterrand founded it 36 years ago, before going on to the presidency.

Leading Socialists are keeping mum about their postelection plans. Party leader Francois Hollande has already said he will step down, and Miss Royal — his partner and mother of their four children — may succeed him.

Meanwhile, the left-of-the-left flank that often allied with the Socialists in parliament is fast disappearing.

France’s Communist Party held 86 parliament seats in the late 1970s and continued to survive even after the collapse of the Soviet Union killed off counterparts elsewhere in Europe. In the outgoing parliament, the party had 21 seats — and by next month it may be down to two, according to polls.

Party leader Marie-George Buffet won a dismal 1.9 percent in the presidential vote. Communist coffers are drying up, since public funding is linked to electoral support.

Party Treasurer Jean-Louis Frostin concedes the financial situation “is very tense.” French newspapers have reported the Communists are considering selling off valuable artworks housed in the party headquarters — and maybe even the building itself.

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