Vote Now, Pay Later

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PARIS: Confronting his sagging popularity and a record 12.8 percent unemployment rate, French President Jaques Chirac dissolved parliament and called for national elections on May 25. The move is a risky gamble to push through budget cuts needed to allow the country to join the European Union's single currency. More cuts are needed in light of a new Finance Ministry report that placed the 1997 budget deficit at 3.8 percent, short of the three percent needed to qualify for the euro. In a televised plea, Chirac, called on voters to reject increased taxes and public spending as the solution to rising unemployment. "If we want to affirm ourselves as a great economic and political power, equal to the dollar and the yen," the president said, France must adopt the euro in 1999 and see its budget shrink. The president is gambling on winning early elections before enacting a new round of highly unpopular belt-tightening. Recent polls are not encouraging: One survey reported that 53 percent of the French electorate would vote against Chirac and his party.