Socialist President Francois Mitterrand announced Monday night that he will abide by the decision of the voters and appoint a premier today from the ranks of the new conservative parliamentary majority in France.
But Mitterrand, in an unexpected appearance on national television, did not reveal the name of his choice and gave no hint of whether he intends to submit to the demands of the conservatives to name someone that they would approve in advance.
This demand was widely interpreted in France as pressure on Mitterrand to select rightist Jacques Chirac, a former premier who is the mayor of Paris and leader of the Rally for the Republic, the largest conservative party.
But almost all of Mitterrand's words were conciliatory, and there was no hint that the 69-year-old president, one of France's most enigmatic and skillful politicians, anticipates what many French believe will be an unprecedented period of political conflict and uncertainty during the final two years of his seven-year term.
The results of Sunday's election were obviously disappointing to the conservatives. They had expected an overwhelming majority.
Instead, the Ministry of the Interior reported Monday, with two overseas seats still to be decided next Sunday, Chirac's Gaullist Rally for the Republic and the Union for French Democracy of former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing had won a total of 277 seats, a dozen short of a majority.
Independents' Help Needed
They would have a majority, according to the ministry, only with the help of 14 independent conservatives expected to sit with them in the National Assembly. But even two of these were not certain to join the coalition, and Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, speculated that these two might sit with the extreme right.
The Socialists and their allies won 215 seats, far less than their majority in the outgoing National Assembly but still making them the largest single parliamentary group. Many analysts attributed this result, which was much better than even most Socialists expected, to Mitterrand's campaigning, a fact that will strengthen his hand in maneuvering with the conservatives.
Taking note of the returns, Mitterrand said that the new conservative majority in the French National Assembly is "weak, but it exists." He will therefore name the premier from its ranks today, he said. Mitterrand went on to say that he will "scrupulously follow the constitution" and that there is a need for everyone to sublimate personal interests to the needs of the country as a whole.
For the first time since the French Fifth Republic was founded by the government of President Charles de Gaulle in 1958, a French president faces a hostile Parliament and must select a premier acceptable to that group. Also, the new premier, under a constitution that divides executive powers between the presidency and the premiership, will now act more like a rival than a loyal lieutenant.
Premier Laurent Fabius, a Socialist, arrived in the Elysee Palace in the morning soon after the final returns to confer with Mitterrand for 90 minutes and to offer his resignation. Fabius stated in a letter that he and his government are "prepared to resign (at) the moment you judge most opportune."
The communique issued by the conservatives Monday appeared to be an attempt to pressure Mitterrand to name Chirac, 53, who has made many allies--but who also has made many political enemies, even among rightists, during a long career. By choosing Chirac, Mitterrand would be following the old French tradition of giving the leader of the largest party in a coalition the first chance at trying to form a government.
Insisting that the French have chosen a new majority and a new political program, the conservatives said that "this program can only be applied by a premier and government dedicated to implement, without compromise and concessions, the platform of our two parties."
But despite the bluster of the communique, the slim conservative majority gives Mitterrand lots of room to maneuver. Among others mentioned in the French press as possible nominees as premiers are three conservatives looked on as moderates and possible conciliators: 60-year-old Giscard d'Estaing, who ranks low in public opinion polls but still has the prestige of a former president; 71-year-old former Premier Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a former Resistance fighter who is a close friend of Mitterrand, and 58-year-old Simone Veil, a popular former health minister and a Jewish survivor of the Nazi extermination camps.
Although many analysts saw potential conflict in the divided political system now, others saw the inevitability of accommodation, of what the French call "cohabitation" between a president of one party and a premier of another. In analyzing the election returns, Andre Fontaine, the influential editor of the Paris newspaper Le Monde, wrote that both sides must now recognize their limitations.
"The victory of the right is too limited for it to impose its law on the chief of state," he said. " . . . And not since the presidential election of 1969 has the level of the left fallen so low.
"Each has cards to play in the game that is about to begin. But neither has trumps," Fontaine went on. "The consequence for both is that, whatever they had to say before against cohabitation, they now have to work together."
The final returns that came in Monday morning confirmed the earlier projections that the elections have boosted the standing of the extreme right National Front and humiliated the Communist Party.
Extreme Right Gain
The National Front, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen and his anti-immigrant oratory, enters the National Assembly for the first time with 33 seats. In addition, the Ministry of Interior listed one seat for an independent extreme-right deputy who might vote with the National Front.
The Communists, who played a significant role in politics as the largest party in France after World War II, won only 35 seats in their worst electoral performance in more than half a century.
One of the most surprising results of the election was the poor showing of former Premier Raymond Barre in his home district in the Lyon area. Barre, a rotund, professorial conservative who speaks in stentorian presidential tones, was ranked as the most popular politician in France in most public opinion polls.
Nevertheless, although he won a seat for himself, his list of candidates finished second in Lyon under the proportional representation system to a list led by former Minister of Defense Charles Hernu, who resigned from the government last year because of his role in the clandestine sinking of a ship used by the anti-nuclear group, Greenpeace. Analysts believed that voters were irritated by Barre's insistence throughout the campaign that cohabitation between a Socialist president and a conservative premier would not work and by his refusal to cooperate closely with his fellow conservatives Chirac and Giscard d'Estaing.