In 1981, the Socialist Party leader, François Mitterrand, was elected President of France and the Left won the legislative election. However, in 1986, the Right regained a parliamentary majority. President Mitterrand was forced to "cohabit" with a conservative cabinet led by the RPR leader Jacques Chirac. Chirac took responsibility for domestic policy while the President focused on his "reserved domain" - foreign affairs and defense policy. Moreover, several other prominent candidates opposed the two heads of the executive.
Chirac's cabinet advocated liberal-conservative policies, in abolishing the solidarity tax on wealth and selling some public companies. It was faced with opposition from social movements, supported covertly by President Mitterrand.
Meanwhile, the leadership of Chirac over the Right was challenged by the former UDF Prime Minister Raymond Barre. Barre gained some popularity by condemning the principle of the "cohabitation", claiming that it is incompatible with the "spirit of the Fifth Republic". He appeared as an alternative to the executive duo. In January 1988, when he announced his candidacy, Chirac was credited with 19.5% in the first round by SOFRES polls institute, against 23% for Barre. But, from the start of February, Chirac benefited from the internal divisions in the UDF, and took the lead among the right-wing candidates.
On the Left, the identity of the Socialist candidate was uncertain. Mitterrand said he was not sure he would run, and meanwhile, his internal rival Michel Rocard campaigned for the nomination. The favourite to win the election according to the polls, the incumbent president announced his candidacy at the end of March. He wrote an open letter to the French, where he proposed a moderate programme ("neither nationalizations, nor privatizations") and advocated a "united France" against "the appropriation of the state by a clan", targeting the RPR.
He benefited from the decline of the French Communist Party, represented by André Lajoinie. Lajoinie was faced with competition for the far-left vote by a "reforming Communist", Pierre Juquin and a Trotskyist, Arlette Laguiller. Meanwhile, the Ecologist Antoine Waechter refused to ally the Greens with either the Left or the Right. On the Far-Right, the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, tried to confirm the FN's good result in the previous legislative election.
|François Mitterrand||Socialist Party (PS)||10,381,332||34.11%|
|Jacques Chirac||Rally for the Republic (RPR)||6,075,160||19.96%|
|Raymond Barre||Union for French Democracy (UDF)||5,035,144||16.54%|
|Jean-Marie Le Pen||Front National (FN)||4,376,742||14.38%|
|André Lajoinie||French Communist Party (PCF)||2,056,261||6.76%|
|Antoine Waechter||The Greens||1,149,897||3.78%|
|Pierre Juquin||splinter of the French Communist Party (PCF)||639,133||2.10%|
|Arlette Laguiller||Workers' Struggle (LO)||606,201||1.99%|
|Pierre Boussel||Workers' Party (PT)||116,874||0.38%|
The second round consisted of a competition between the two heads of the executive power, but the first was marked by the unexpectedly high vote for the National Front, and a poor result for the Communist Party. Barre endorsed Chirac.
The TV debate between the two finalists, and protagonists of the "cohabitation", was very tense. Mitterrand wanted to show his ascendancy in naming his challenger "Mister Prime Minister". Chirac answered: "Here, you are not President, and I am not Prime Minister. We are two equal candidates. You will allow I call you Mister Mitterrand". He replied: "You are absolutely right, Mister Prime Minister". Besides, the two candidates clashed about their attitude to the September 1986 terrorist attacks.
|François Mitterrand||Socialist Party (PS)||16,704,279||54.02%|
|Jacques Chirac||Rally for the Republic (RPR)||14,218,970||45.98%|
François Mitterrand was re-elected President of France. Jacques Chirac resigned from the head of the cabinet. Michel Rocard succeeded him, then the Socialist Party obtained a relative parliamentary majority, President Mitterrand having dissolved the National Assembly. Chirac became president after winning the 1995 elections.