Crunch time: Socialist hopefuls rally loyalists

14th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 14, 2006 (AFP) - Three French Socialist politicians hoping to succeed Jacques Chirac in presidential elections next year are urgently rallying their loyalist factions ahead of the party's nomination vote on Thursday.

PARIS, Nov 14, 2006 (AFP) - Three French Socialist politicians hoping to succeed Jacques Chirac in presidential elections next year are urgently rallying their loyalist factions ahead of the party's nomination vote on Thursday.

Ségolène Royal, the female frontrunner in polls to carry the vote, was struggling to maintain her lead over former ministers Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, both of whom were trying to squeeze her out of the race.

Two hundred thousand card-carrying members of the opposition Socialist Party are to vote for their preferred candidate late Thursday. If none of the three gets an absolute majority, a knockout second vote between the top two will be held November 23.

For France's left, what is at stake is working out who is most likely to beat the probable conservative candidate for president: Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Royal, Fabius and Strauss-Kahn each led rallies late Monday to shore up their support in the party ahead of the nomination vote, after emerging from a series of six debates which badly dented Royal's image by suggesting she was shaky on policy details.

Royal, a 53-year-old former junior minister, told a crowd of 1,500 supporters in Paris she was looking forward to the party vote.

"I feel something strong rising up, like a whiff of May '81," she said, referring to the date that the late and revered Socialist president, François Mitterrand, was first elected.

But her spokesman, Arnaud Montebourg, gave voice to the fear in her camp that a second-round vote for the nomination could play against her by propelling Strauss-Kahn or Fabius into the presidential election.

"There must not be a second round," Montebourg told the Metro newspaper. "It is necessary that from the first round we give the strongest impetus possible to confront Nicolas Sarkozy."

In Marseille, her rival Fabius reached out to the younger members of the party, telling his own crowd that "a Socialist candidate cannot win the election if he doesn't have the youth with him."

Royal's candidacy was "disconcerting," he said, implying that some of her ideas went against the party's beliefs.

Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday worked to keep up the momentum he generated during the debates, which most observers and polls said he dominated.

He told France Inter radio that, if elected president, he would reverse privatisations effected under Chirac, notably that of the state electricity utility EDF, which has subsidiaries across much of Europe.

He also said he would look at expanding France's public sector, which already employs a quarter of the national workforce — and provides a solid base of Socialist voters.

Royal remains the clear favourite in general public surveys, though the gap has narrowed between her and Strauss-Kahn.

A poll published Monday showed 37 percent of French adults thought she was the best Socialist candidate, a three point drop in a month but still 10 points ahead of Strauss-Kahn and 26 points ahead of Fabius.

How the 200,000 party members would vote, however, remains unknown.

An AFP survey of 52 Socialist Party branch secretaries showed around half backed Royal, with the remainder split between her two rivals.

But Strauss-Kahn, in particular, was receiving support in public from key Socialist figures.

One, former education minister Claude Allègre, told Tuesday's edition of Le Parisien newspaper that he was going to vote for Strauss-Kahn on Thursday.

"He's rediscovered his focus, and he's not holding forth like a demagogue," he said.

A pirated Internet video of Royal saying she thought school teachers — who represent a big bloc of Socialist voters — were not working long enough hours showed she lacked good judgment, he also said.

"Ségolène doesn't know teachers, and she has an accountant's view of teaching," he said.

Copyright: AFP

Subject: French news

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