Chirac warns rival Sarkozy to do his job

4th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 3, 2007 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac took a veiled

PARIS, Jan 3, 2007 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac took a veiled

swipe this week at his rival and would-be successor Nicolas Sarkozy, warning him not to neglect his job as interior minister as the presidential race heats up.

Chirac was speaking to a cabinet meeting a day after the 327,000 members of his centre-right UMP party started voting in an online presidential primary -- the outcome of which is all-but-certain since Sarkozy is the only candidate.

"You will certainly be keen to take part in the coming national debate. It is only fair you should be able to do so," Chirac told cabinet ministers.

"But you must do so with respect for one clear principle: taking part in the electoral debate must in no way undermine your work in government."

Chirac appeared to be taking aim at Sarkozy, who is expected to be anointed as the UMP's candidate at a party congress on January 14, but has yet to say when he plans to leave the government to focus on the race.

Critics see a conflict of interest in Sarkozy's job as interior minister -- and therefore technically in charge of organising the April 22 elections -- and question his ability to keep his eye on the job while on the campaign trial.

Brice Hortefeux, a close Sarkozy ally, said Wednesday that to juggle both roles was "all a question of ability -- and Nicolas Sarkozy has more than enough of that."

He dismissed grumblings about a conflict of interest, saying today was "not the 19th century, when interior ministers... organised the candidacies and chose the winners" of French elections.

But others among Sarkozy's friends are advising him to stand down right away, to clear the air.

Besides, ruling party members concede that the choice may not be entirely his -- Chirac has the power to force Sarkozy out of government if he believes he can no longer combine the roles of minister and candidate.

The animosity between Chirac, 74, and Sarkozy, 51 -- a former protege who "betrayed" him by backing a rival presidential candidate in 1995, going on to wrest control of the UMP, founded by Chirac -- is an open secret in French politics.

In his New Year's address to the nation, Chirac pointedly refused to rule out running for a third term and -- though a bid is seen as highly unlikely -- looks set to allow the suspense to linger up to the last moment.

Chirac's refusal to step aside has undoubtedly taken some of the wind out of Sarkozy's sails -- although polls still show him neck-and-neck with his Socialist rival Segolene Royal, who is riding a wave of enthusiastic support for her bid to become France's first woman president.

The president also took aim Wednesday at Sarkozy's campaign call for a "clean break" with France's Gaullist tradition, in favour of an American-inspired approach to economic and social reform.

He warned ministers against the "temptation of the clean slate" and urged them to show "respect for work done".

Both Sarkozy and Royal, 53, have promised to sweep aside many of the features left by Chirac's almost 12 years in power, threatening the incumbent president's hope of leaving a strong legacy.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article