Chirac leading plot to block Sarkozy succession

16th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 15, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac is carrying out a behind-the-scenes plot to stop his ambitious interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, succeeding him in elections next year, media reports said on Sunday.

PARIS, Oct 15, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac is carrying out a behind-the-scenes plot to stop his ambitious interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, succeeding him in elections next year, media reports said on Sunday.

The plan is to destablise Sarkozy, whom Chirac sees as too arrogant, too pro-American and too insolent, ahead of the polls due to take place in April 2007, newspapers including Le Journal du Dimanche and the newsmagazine Marianne claimed.

But Chirac and his closest ally, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, are having to tread a careful line between trying to trip up Sarkozy and making sure the conservative ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) they all belong to — and which Sarkozy heads — does not lose in the elections.

Le Journal du Dimanche called the plot an "anti-Sarkozy offensive" and printed an interview with the leader of the UMP in parliament, Jean-Louis Debré, that it suggested was the latest Chirac manoeuvre.

Debré, another firm ally of the president, railed against Sarkozy's repeated pledge to "break" with the political tone and traditions laid down during the decade Chirac has been head of state.

"Those who put out too much hot air should watch out — they could quickly find themselves in the middle of a storm," Debré warned.

"To denigrate, challenge, criticise the policies of a government you belong to is not only a mistake but a political error," he said.

The magazine Marianne said Chirac and Villepin had only one idea in mind: "to attack (Sarkozy) from all sides, rob him of legitimacy as a presidential candidate."

They are buoyed by recent surveys that show public support for Sarkozy slipping, though he remains the most popular figure in the UMP.

A poll in Le Journal du Dimanche showed a five-point dip for the interior minister over the past month, to 40 percent.

His fortunes in France were not helped by a recent trip he made to the United States, during which he met President George W. Bush, and criticised French foreign policy.

The problem for Chirac, however, is that no other figure in the party comes close to Sarkozy in looking like they could emerge victorious in the elections, which are to be contested by a hugely popular Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal.

Royal stands a reasonable chance of becoming France's first woman president, according to polls that put her neck-and-neck with Sarkozy.

At 73, Chirac is considered unlikely to run for a third term, though he has obstinately refused to rule it out, complicating Sarkozy's efforts to bolster support ahead of the elections.

Villepin and France's defence minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, another Chirac loyalist, have also dropped heavy hints that they should be considered as conservative candidates — regardless of whether Sarkozy wins the formal party nomination.

Each have less than a third of Sarkozy's public support, though they are narrowing the gap.

The tensions in the UMP camp were evident last week when Sarkozy suddenly came down with a "migraine" to avoid a weekly breakfast with Villepin and other UMP leaders.

Villepin, who visibly detests Sarkozy, was quoted Sunday in Le Monde as saying the ruling party could still resolve its internal strife before heading into the elections.

"There is a time for everything in politics," he said during a trip to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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