Almost nine months after the victory of a right-wing parliamentary majority, France seems to be adjusting relatively smoothly to political cohabitation between Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and conservative Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.
French public opinion polls show support for this new arrangement, but each of the main protagonists and the parties that they represent are closely scrutinizing the other's actions in order to eventually capitalize on a political faux pas.No other president in modern French history has had to face a hostile parliament. The rules for this type of political coexistence are less clear in France than in the United States, where Congress is only rarely controlled by the president's party.
The popularity of both Mr. Mitterrand and Mr. Chirac has grown in opinion polls. Sensing this phenomenon, both men have sought to minimize difficulties involved in the governing compromise and impress foreign leaders that France still speaks abroad with a single voice.
Considerable stage management is necessary, for example, when the president and the prime minister both appear on the same international scene together. Such was the case at the Franco-African summit conference in Togo in mid-November.
Yet behind the scenes, an intense power struggle is taking place as the two men, as well as other presidential contenders, jockey for position in view of crucial presidential elections scheduled for May 1988.
So far, Mr. Chirac has shown himself to be a clever tactician, winning several skirmishes. Most recently, a new electoral law, favorable to the governing right-wing coalition, was voted by parliament and declared constitutional by the nation's highest judiciary body.
The president, for his part, has adopted the role of the defender of the people and the parliament, putting forward an constant desire to safeguard national interest. He lets the conservative majority govern, but expresses dissent whenever he feels that the interests of the people and the nation are not being respected.
Mr. Mitterrand has adapted well to his new role as watchdog or guardian, carefully scrutinizing the text of every new law and project.
Commented a French political analyst: Mitterrand is obviously patiently waiting for the Chirac government to get embroiled in its own contradictions, for internal rivalries to take their toll and for the ultra- liberal economic policies to fail.
In particular, the Chirac government must do something about France's growing unemployment problem: About 2.5 million people are without jobs, or some 12 percent of the work force.
The success of the privatization program is what this government's economic policies will be judged on, remarked a French banker.
Indeed, in the short term, money derived from selling off government interests is to be channeled into public work schemes designed to boost employment.