Chirac hospital stay throws spotlight on succession

5th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 5 (AFP) - Although President Jacques Chirac was reported to be in "very satisfactory" condition in hospital after suffering a "vascular incident," his indisposition threw the spotlight Monday on the eventual succession to the French leadership.

PARIS, Sept 5 (AFP) - Although President Jacques Chirac was reported to be in "very satisfactory" condition in hospital after suffering a "vascular incident," his indisposition threw the spotlight Monday on the eventual succession to the French leadership.

Even if, as doctors expect, the 72-year-old president recovers fully from his condition, which caused him some loss of vision, the question now is whether he will be able to seek a third mandate in the next presidential election scheduled for 2007.

Chirac was taken for urgent treatment on Friday following what the Val de Grâce hospital called a "minor vascular incident that led to a slight vision disorder which should disappear in a few days." Doctors said he would be in hospital for a week.

The possibility that Chirac might not be available, highlighted the rivalry between the two members of his center-right Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) thought most likely to step into his shoes.

"Nothing will be the same as before. Already everything has changed," said the popular daily Le Parisien. "The Fifth Republic has always been a republican monarchy -- and when the chief is weakened, everyone feels it."

"Strictly speaking, nothing has happened," said the conservative Le Figaro noting that Chirac's latest medical bulletin declares his condition as "very satisfactory."

"But still -- everyone has a confused feeling that something has shifted," Le Figaro went on to say in an editorial.

In a veiled call for the president to resign, the left-wing La Libération said "Chirac would do himself a favour if he gave the country the chance for a presidential debate that might lift it from its current indecision over Europe, the economy, society -- over its very identity," it said.

"But no more than any of his predecessors were, Jacques Chirac is not of the kind to give up one crumb of his power for a single second," said La Libération.

The two prime candidates for a Chirac replacement are Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also president of the UMP. Sarkozy made it clear he would run even against Chirac.

De Villepin abandoned a party conference in the western resort of La Baule to visit Chirac at the Val de Grâce military hospital in Paris, leaving Sarkozy behind to deliver a slashing if indirect attack on him.

Only three days after de Villepin unfurled a plan for "social growth", the market-oriented Sarkozy said he was "exasperated by these interminable speeches that invariably invoke the words 'social justice', 'social progress' and 'social politics'."

Sarkozy lashed out at the "perverse" effect of a wealth tax established many years ago which is hitting people even with relatively modest incomes because of an increase in property prices. De Villepin said reforming the tax was "not a priority".

Sarkozy said "nothing, really nothing and nobody, really nobody" would prevent him contesting the presidential election in 2007.

The speech put Sarkozy openly on the offensive. He pledged that he will do away with the policies of the last 30 years, including the Chirac years, if elected.

"On the right, there will be a pre- and a post-La Baule," said Le Figaro. "Jacques Chirac is moving off the scene. Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique de Villepin are moving in. Two temperaments, two strategies. The rebel and the loyalist."

Rejecting fears of a split in the ruling party, Sarkozy said there was nothing to fear from competition among the party's leaders. "A political family should rejoice to contain so much talent," he said.

De Villepin at least must defend Chirac's capacity to continue governing. "As long as there is no call for concern, as long as the president feels perfectly fine apart from this small difficulty with his eyesight, I fail to see what the problem is," de Villepin said.

De Villepin said Chirac, suffering his first significant health issue after 10 years in office, was "in good form" and was on his feet, walking round his room, and discussing major issues, such as French aid to the United States after hurricane Katrina.

The Val de Grâce hospital issued a statement saying that Chirac's "general condition is very satisfactory. Medical observation will continue as planned for several more days".

Asked whether the problem could stop Chirac travelling by air, de Villepin said in a television interview that there was nothing to suggest any such difficulty could arise. As for a visit to New York on September 14 for the United Nations General Assembly "we shall see what the doctors say".

The president's engagements for the coming days have been cancelled -- including a visit to Germany for talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- and de Villepin was told to deputize in leading the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Cardiologists consulted by AFP agreed that the president had most likely suffered a "transient ischemic attack" affecting his eye, which occurred when a mini blood clot lodged in his retinal artery causing restriction to his field of vision.

Renowned for his strong physique and tireless energy, Chirac has enjoyed robust health through a long political career. He used to be a heavy smoker, however, which doctors said could have contributed to problems in blood circulation.

Despite the reassurances from Chirac's office, commentators noted that this is the first time the veteran politician has shown signs of his age -- and that the implications of that could be more important than the Elysée lets on.

"If there is one politician who one finds it hard to imagine on a hospital bed, it is Jacques Chirac -- the embodiment of French vitality.... He appeared rust-proof," said Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper. "The alert has exposed an unexpected fragility."

But others warned that Chirac is unlikely to fade away quietly, even if his health problems turn out to be more serious than officially let on.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article