Centrist minister backs Sarkozy's presidential bid

2nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 1, 2007 (AFP) - The only centrist minister in the French government has decided to support rightwing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency instead of his party leader Francois Bayrou.

PARIS, April 1, 2007 (AFP) - The only centrist minister in the French government has decided to support rightwing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency instead of his party leader Francois Bayrou.

Education Minister Gilles de Robien, who was Bayrou's campaign manager in the 2002 election, said in a newspaper interview published Sunday that the centrist candidate has failed to spell out a clear strategy for governing France.

"I have repeatedly asked him over the past two years the same questions: Is he with the left or the right? With whom will he govern if he is elected?" Robien said in an interview in the Journal de Dimanche weekly.

"I never received any answers except 'We'll see when the time comes'. I cannot support such vagueness. We don't have the right to leave voters in the lurch."

Education minister since 2005, Robien was the only member of Bayrou's Union for French Democracy (UDF) party to serve in the center-right government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

His defection to the Sarkozy camp comes as Bayrou appears to have hit a plateau in the public opinion polls as the third-place contender for the April 22 vote.

Sarkozy's campaign has been gathering pace with the two latest polls showing that he would pick up between 30 and 32 percent of votes in the first round compared to 27-24 percent for Socialist rival Segolene Royal.

That would put Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), and Royal in the runoff, scheduled for May 6. Bayrou has been holding steady at around 18 percent.

"I belong to the center-right," Robien said in the interview.

"It is with that in mind that I will build with him (Sarkozy) a plural majority, if he is elected, a broadened majority, a governing majority," said the 65-year-old minister.

Bayrou, 55, is campaigning on a platform that rejects the left-right divide that has been a fixture of French politics for decades, and calls for the creation of a national unity government made up of moderates from both camps.

Robien is the second high-profile Bayrou supporter to join Sarkozy's campaign following Simone Veil, the former president of the European parliament and one of France's most respected politicians.

During a campaign swing through the French Caribbean island of Martinique, Bayrou shrugged off Robien's decision, saying he was part of the "old" team that had put France in a rut.

"I believe that we can't create something new with the old," said Bayrou.

"This is very good, because I am trying to offer to France a way to govern differently, and to govern differently, we need new teams."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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