Bayrou seeks to bridge France's left-right divide

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Francois Bayrou, who unexpectedly emerged as a serious challenger in France's presidential race, is a former Latin teacher who believes the country must ditch its "prehistoric" left-right political divide.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Francois Bayrou, who unexpectedly emerged as a serious challenger in France's presidential race, is a former Latin teacher who believes the country must ditch its "prehistoric" left-right political divide.

The 55-year-old leader of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) has reaped spectacular success by offering a "third way" for voters unhappy with Socialist Segolene Royal and rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy.

Described as the "neither/nor candidate," Bayrou proposes the creation of a national unity government of moderates from both left and right, a platform currently in place in neighbouring Germany but which critics say is unviable in France.

Despite his claim to represent the centre, in the past the UDF has consistently been an ally of the right and Bayrou has himself been in governments led by the party of outgoing President Jacques Chirac.

A father of six and a practising Catholic, Bayrou has also written a best-selling biography of King Henri IV, who succeeded in uniting France at the end of the 16th-century wars of religion.

He was born into a farming family in the Bearn region of southwest France, and makes much of his rural roots, carefully cultivating his image as a country boy.

He likes to be photographed driving a tractor on the family farm in his native Pyrenees village of Borderes, where he raises thoroughbred horses.

Married at the age of 20, he combined teaching Latin with farmwork after his father died in an accident. As a young man he overcame a stutter by reciting poetry in front of a mirror.

Bayrou entered politics in 1979 under the wing of president Valery Giscard D'Estaing, whose UDF party was a coalition of pro-European and Christian Democrat groups offering a centre-right alternative to the Gaullism of Chirac.

He was first elected to parliament from his Pyrenees region in 1986 and served as education minister between 1993 and 1997 in governments led by members of Chirac's RPR party.

During his tenure as education minister, Bayrou was forced to back down on education reform when one million people took to the streets in 1994 to protest a plan to fund private schools.

In 1998 he became the UDF's president and took his first stab at the presidency in 2002, winning 6.8 percent of the vote.

A stiff test came later the same year, when a majority of UDF deputies defected to the newly-created Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) -- today headed by Sarkozy.

Bayrou, who has remained in third place in the polls in recent weeks, refused to give up his independence and held on to a rump of 30 MPs.

Polls have shown that Sarkozy would beat Royal if the pair make it to the run-off, to be held two weeks after Sunday's first round, but he is not sure of winning if Bayrou makes it into the second round. 


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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