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Mitterrand Replaces Loser Chirac With Socialist Maverick

May 11, 1988|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

But his ideas have long touched a chord among the French, who in the past decade have become less ideological and more fond of compromise. Rocard is a Socialist who prefers pragmatism to ideology and sees more value in markets than in the ideas of Karl Marx. He once called himself a "free-enterprise Socialist."

The Socialist Party, after a disastrous, doctrinaire two years in office at the beginning of Mitterrand's first term, finally came around to his way of thinking. Mitterrand's speeches in the last campaign appeared to reflect, at least in part, many of Rocard's ideas.

Son of a Physicist

Rocard, a member of the small but influential Protestant community in a largely Roman Catholic country, was born in a suburb of Paris in 1930, the son of a physicist who later helped develop France's nuclear bomb.

Like Chirac and Fabius, he is a graduate of the elite National School of Administration that has trained many of the leading politicians and civil servants of France. He worked as an inspector in the Ministry of Finance, often regarded as the most prestigious job in the French civil service, before deciding in the late 1960s to devote himself to politics.

Mitterrand named Rocard a little more than two hours after Chirac came to the Elysee Palace and handed in his resignation, spending only 10 minutes with the president. The two men, one a Socialist, the other an orthodox conservative, had cooperated for two years in a strange double-executive system that the French call "cohabitation," but their campaigning for the presidency ended in acrimony.

Under the French constitution, Chirac did not have to resign but he would have been breaking with tradition if he had tried to stay on. In any case, since he had been soundly defeated in the presidential election, his position would have been untenable.

Rocard is the fourth premier to serve under President Mitterrand. After taking office in 1981, Mitterrand named Socialist Pierre Mauroy as premier, replaced him with Fabius in 1984, and then, after the conservatives won the parliamentary elections of 1986, appointed Chirac, the leader of the strongest conservative party.

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