French Parliament to Vote on Reversing Electoral Calendar
France's political establishment is sharply divided over a measure to be discussed Tuesday in the National Assembly that would put in reverse order the two elections -- legislative and presidential -- due in 2002.
What would otherwise be a matter of fine constitutional interpretation has become a focus of growing contention since the likely front-runners in the presidential race -- President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin -- set themselves on opposing sites in the debate.
Two weeks ago Jospin said he was in favor of changing the current timetable under which elections for the National Assembly will be held in April 2002, before the presidential vote one month later.
This sequence of voting is unprecedented in France's 42-year old Fifth Republic, in which the presidency is supposed to be pre-eminent, and was caused by Chirac's decision to call early parliamentary elections in 1997.
The prime minister has the support of elder statesmen such as former president Valery Giscard-D'Estaing who say that a president elected just after the National Assembly would find himself dependent on the legislature in a way out of keeping with the constitution.
According to some French newspapers, Jospin has also calculated that his own chances of being elected president will be improved if the presidential race is first, because he is worried that his left-wing coalition will fail to win a majority in the parliamentary poll.
But in a television interview last Thursday Chirac confirmed that despite leading the so-called Gaullist RPR party, and therefore in theory supporting presidential priority, he is against tinkering with the current arrangement because it would be "last-minute and self-interested."
Tuesday's debate is to be followed by a vote on Wednesday, but Jospin's normal majority in parliament is not assured because his Green and Communist party allies have said they will oppose the change.
On the other hand, a section of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) party -- of the center-right opposition -- is set to vote for the measure, under which the parliamentary elections would be delayed till June 2002 -- PARIS (AFP)
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