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Chirac Appoints New PM - 2002-05-06

French President Jacques Chirac, re-elected Sunday by a landslide to another term in office, has appointed a new prime minister - Jean-Pierre Raffarin. He replaces Lionel Jospin, the Socialist who resigned after losing in the first round of presidential balloting two weeks ago. The change in prime ministers brings to an end, at least for a while, a power-sharing arrangement between the Gaullists of President Chirac and the Socialists.

For five years, the Gaullists have controlled the presidency, while the Socialists dominated the parliament. This cohabitation, as it was known, contributed to the political gridlock that led to the surprising success of the extreme-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Now Mr. Chirac, having won four out of every five votes in his run-off with Mr. Le Pen, has a prime minister of his own choosing, at least until parliamentary elections in five weeks.

Mr. Chirac has chosen Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who is the vice-president of the free-market Liberal Democratic Party and a former minister in the most recent Gaullist government of 1997.

Mr. Raffarin may embody some of the changes that the electorate is demanding in the French system. He is relatively young 53, from the provinces and, as someone not closely identified with the partisan right, perhaps more acceptable to leftists who voted for Mr. Chirac only with the intention to defeat Mr. Le Pen.

Mr. Chirac has promised that his new government will respond to voters' concerns and solve long-neglected problems. If voters believe that Mr. Raffarin is up to the job, it will help the right in its efforts to regain control of the parliament.

The extreme left, the Socialists and Mr. Le Pen's extreme-right National Front are all expected to campaign vigorously for seats in the parliament, and are hoping that Mr. Raffarin's tenure as prime minister will be brief.