Little over a month ago, when the French election campaign began in earnest, two big rallies were held in the Normandy town of Lisieux -- one by Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist leader, and the other by Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand.
Little over a month ago, when the French election campaign began in earnest, two big rallies were held in the Normandy town of Lisieux -- one by Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist leader, and the other by Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand. At those meetings on consecutive nights, both men claimed they would retain parliamentary control of Lisieux. M. Mitterrand went so far as to say that whoever won in Lisieux would win throughout the country, this, then, is Lisieux.
SYNOPSIS: It does not look like a battleground, although in it long history, Lisieux has seen action in campaigns from the twelfth century to World War Two. Part of its history is reflected in the old buildings which still stand in the main streets, but the continuing importance of Lisieux is as a market town, serving a great chunk of agricultural Normandy for a radius of 50 kilometres.
Lisieux is the natural crossroads for an area which is the very epitome of conservatism. The town's 27,000 people derive their living from serving the farming community. Every Friday, the farmers flock to town, bringing their produce and cattle to sell in the busy market. They are wealthy, as farmers always seem to be, although they grumble, as farmers always seem to do, about the prices they get at market, and the cost of living. These are not people who are about to lead France into a violent leftward swerve. Their traditions were Gaullist long before de Gaulle was born. But, like the rest of France, they seem to be bored--to yearn for some kind of change. A year ago, they threw out the man who had been mayor of the town for the previous 24 years and voted three new socialist councillors onto the town council. Part of the Socialists' success in the town stems from their suggestion that everything wrong with Lisieux is due to the 24 years the mayor was in office -- and this argument has its reflection in the national scene. The French are bored. They are restless. And they are threatening to vote the Left into power.
This next weekend, they will make their choice here in Lisieux --and in the rest of France. All sides will study the result of the first ballot carefully. If Lisieux does swing left.....if it does elect Socialist candidate Henri Delisle -- seen here campaigning -- then France could well be on course for a Socialist government. M. Delisle is lively, intelligent and flamboyant -- and he offers Lisieux a fresh start.
For those who want no change, there is the sitting deputy, Robert Bisson. He was the mayor who was dismissed a year ago, but he is confident the scare of a Leftward vote is more a threat than a reality. The feeling that it could not happen -- that France would not dare vote Left -- is a recurrent theme among government deputies...and they may have history on their side. There is an old French proverb which says a Frenchman has his heart on the left, but his wallet on the right -- and when he votes, he forgets his heart...In Lisieux, they'll be testing that proverb on Sunday.