France: Close Victory

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After watching the contenders on TV, Paris' Le Monde dubbed President Charles de Gaulle the "champion in all weight classes without challenger."

The bout in question was this week's referendum to decide whether future French Presidents are to be elected by direct vote. De Gaulle's opponents were operating under handicaps. The crisis in Cuba has reinforced the French tendency to rally behind a strong leader. Said De Gaulle pointedly: "In our world, which is so dangerous—one sees it now at this very moment—France cannot survive if she falls back into the impotence of yesterday." Many voters are likely to agree. Further, the government-controlled radio-TV network, which plugged the Gaullist line even in news broadcasts, limited each opposition speaker to ten minutes, and a sternly ticking time clock was shown before the speaker began and when he had ended. The performances were enough to drive a televiewer into the kitchen for another shot of cognac—if he did not switch off the set entirely.

The Communist Party's No. 2 man. Waldeck Rochet, wearing metal-rimmed spectacles and a funereal suit, warned of the evils of Gaullist capitalism and of the military alliance with "vengeful" West Germany. Senate President Gaston Monnerville, a Negro born in French Guiana, spoke in the name of the Radical Party, argued legalistically that De Gaulle had violated the constitution and that his resignation threat, if he did not get an impressive yes vote, changed the referendum from a "consultation to a summons."

As the referendum day approached, the opposition hardened. Ex-President Vincent Auriol now openly accused De Gaulle of "usurpation" and of asking the nation to "legalize his coups d'etat." Economic Planner Etienne Hirsch blasted De Gaulle by asking if the man who wanted to be the "supreme guide" of France had "forgotten how this translates into Italian, Spanish or German"—il Duce, el Caudillo, der Fűhrer. Opposition posters quoted the words of the late Premier Georges Clemenceau: "The cemeteries are full of indispensable men."

As it turned out De Gaulle won, but by a narrower margin than he had hoped for. He drew just under 62% of all valid ballots, but only 47% of registered voters —less than in previous referendums.