PARIS — Socialist President Francois Mitterrand said today he will pick a new prime minister from the ranks of the right-wing opposition which won a slim majority in a general election Sunday.
Speculation on the likely next premier centered on Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, who has vowed to undo much of Mitterrrand's legislation, particularly to denationalize the banks.
Mitterrand said he had asked Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, and his entire Cabinet, to remain at the helm as a caretaker government "until the nomination of his successor." Fabius offered to resign earlier in the day.
"This will ensure the indispensable continuity of public authority," Mitterrand said. "Circumstances demand that everything is in place soon."
Mitterrand's statement ended speculation that he might try to name an independent prime minister capable of rallying wide support due to the right's failure to secure a commanding majority in Sunday's poll.
Uncertainty on Timing
"This majority is weak, but it exists. It is therefore from their ranks that I will call tomorrow the person I will have chosen to form a government," Mitterrand said.
French television commentators suggested the word "tomorrow" may not have been meant literally but aimed rather at calming fears of a long period of uncertainty.
A spokeswoman for the president's office declined any interpretation of his wording. "There is no interpretation to make, that is what the president said," she said.
Sunday's parliamentary elections have given France a parliamentary majority of different political persuasion from the president for the first time in the 28-year history of the Fifth Republic.
This unprecedented situation has fueled fears of instability or political stalemate as rival factions within the new majority alliance of the Gaullist RPR and center-right UDF parties put forward candidates for the premiership.
"I am aware of the important change for our democracy brought by accession of a political majority that differs on major questions with the president," Mitterrand said.
He reaffirmed his intentions to remain in office saying: "I will undertake to defend at home and abroad our freedoms and independence, our commitment to Europe and our rank in the world."
Official figures showed the RPR, led by Chirac, and the UDF of former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing achieved the tiniest majority by winning 289 seats, just one more than half of the assembly's total 577, with the help of 16 right-wing independents.
The right is expected to gain four more seats in France's overseas possessions--two in Polynesia where results have yet to be confirmed and one each in the tiny territories of Saint Pierre et Miquelon, off the coast of Canada, and Wallis et Futuna, in the Pacific. Run-offs are due in both next Sunday.