Socialists take Paris in municipal vote |

Socialists take Paris in municipal vote

The Associated Press

PARIS – The Socialists wrested Paris City Hall from the nearly quarter-century grip of President Jacques Chirac’s conservative party on Sunday, provisional election results showed, dealing a stinging blow to France’s chief of state.

The left also took Lyon, another longtime bastion of the right, in Sunday’s round of municipal elections but suffered numerous losses in other cities where Chirac’s camp made gains.

But Paris – where Chirac served as mayor for 18 years – was the plum of the vote.

Socialist Bertrand Delanoe, 50, declared victory over Philippe Seguin, a former leader of Chirac’s Rally for the Republic party, or RPR, late Sunday, calling his win a ”choice for profound change.”

”Tonight it is time for a party in Paris in front of the City Hall, time for a democratic party from which no Parisians should feel excluded,” Delanoe told crowds of cheering supporters after provisional official results declared him the winner.

Seguin conceded in a televised speech from his campaign headquarters late Sunday. ”To Mr. Bertrand Delanoe, to the new municipal majority, I send them wishes of success,” he said.

The election results were to be confirmed early Monday by the French Interior Ministry.

The victor needs a majority – 82 votes – on the 163-member Paris council. If the results are confirmed, Delanoe, a virtual unknown less than a year ago, will be elected mayor on Friday.

In Lyon, Socialist Gerard Collomb was victorious and will replace former Premier Raymond Barre. In Toulouse, Philippe Douste-Blazy, a centrist, defeated Francois Simon, a Socialist.

Chirac’s right chalked up victories elsewhere around France, from Strasbourg, a formerly Socialist-held city in the east, to Avignon, in the south, and Quimper in the west.

Ministers in Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s government suffered humiliating defeats in Avignon, Montbelliard and Blois. In Blois, Education Minister Jack Lang, a party standard-bearer, lost by 34 votes. Two other ministers lost in the first round.

Sunday’s voting was for local councilors and mayors across France in races that required a runoff after there was no clear victor in the first round March 11.

In Paris, incumbent Mayor Jean Tiberi, who was expelled from Chirac’s party for refusing to withdraw from the race, said Seguin’s refusal to ally with him was a ”grave historic error.”

Seguin refused pleas for an alliance with Tiberi, whose reputation was tarnished by kickback scandals sweeping City Hall and allegedly dating to Chirac’s era. Chirac served as mayor from 1977-95.

The city halls of Paris, Lyon and Toulouse were seen as a test of the staying power of Chirac’s right, and for the ability of Jospin’s left to make political breakthroughs – as it did with its overwhelming victory in 1997 legislative elections. In addition, Jospin and Chirac are expected to face each other in the 2002 presidential race.

While serving as mayor, Chirac built his neo-Gaullist RPR party into a powerful political machine that became the main rightist force in France. The RPR’s grip on Paris has been so complete that, in the 1980s the party twice captured all 20 districts.

Delanoe, who took 31 percent of the vote in the first round, benefitted from an alliance with the Green Party, which had 12 percent of the first-round vote.

The Paris mayor is chosen by a sort of electoral college made up of council members from each of the city’s 20 districts, with some districts contributing more councilors than others and, therefore, more critical to the election outcome.

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