De Gaulle and After

The outcome of the presidential elections in France took public opinion abroad by surprise. General de Gaulle was thought to be so exceptional a politician, with such great personal radiance and such a firm grip on opinion that it seemed he would be elected by a substantial majority on the first ballot. The results he had obtained in referenda in the past led one to believe that he would do even better in the presidential elections. His main argument in those referenda had been that if he did not obtain an unequivocal and massive response he could not carry on with his task. This election centered, directly and personally, on him. The outcome, then, appeared clear in advance.

It is interesting to look now into the reasons why he was forced to submit to a runoff; for though they do not define the future precisely, they do permit us to analyze what it may be.

General de Gaulle's policies dissatisfied many Frenchmen. From his return to power in 1958 to 1963, inflation grew at a rate equal to what we had experienced in the Fourth Republic. The stabilization plan came too late, lasted too long and brought economic stagnation and social problems. The crisis touched nearly every professional and social class. Discontent was widespread. Its principal manifestation, generally forgotten, was the big miners' strike in 1962, which occurred even though the Government had declared it a "social year," a year when the claims of the workers would be recognized. Another group, the farmers, were equally discontented. They felt they were being sacrificed by the Government. They blocked roads with their tractors and sometimes even stormed prefectures. Later they hoped their troubles might be solved by bringing agriculture into the Common Market. The rupture of negotiations for that purpose at Brussels on June 30, 1965, was a very deep disappointment to them. Fanners are slow to change. But once they have lost confidence in a leader, it cannot be restored, even if repeated promises are made.

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