Election: A new generation to take power
PARIS, March 26, 2007 (AFP) - Whoever is chosen as France's president -- Nicolas Sarkozy, 52, Segolene Royal, 53 or Francois Bayrou, 55 -- the winner will be from a new generation of leaders, bearing the promise of political renewal in a country that has lost confidence in its elites, commentators say.
"The French want new blood," says political scientist Mariette Sineau, noting that France's political leaders are among the oldest in western democracies.
Before 74 year old Chirac, socialist president Francois Mitterrand left power in 1995 aged 79 and suffering from cancer. His first presidential bid went back to 1965.
The longevity of France's political rulers is due to the fact that electoral defeat in France rarely means the end of a career, according to Gerard Grunberg, research director at the Institute of Political Science in Paris.
"Whether you win or lose, here you can always come back in the race. In other countries, generally speaking, defeats are punished," he says.
Chirac's generation is coming by force of age to the end of its political span and will thus inevitably hand over power, but according to Sineau "it is worn out politically as well."
One month ahead of the first round of the vote, six French people out of 10 say they do not have confidence "in either the left or the right to govern the country", while more than one in two say that the result of the election is "unlikely to improve things in France".
*sidebar1*The leading candidates have responded to this. All claim to represent modernity, change -- even if they have also all been several times minister -- and proximity to the people.
Nicolas Sarkozy, with his call for a "clean break" from the past, assures the French that he will "tell them no lies". On television panels he readily addresses questioners by their first names.
Segolene Royal, the first woman to have a real chance of becoming president, wants to install "participative democracy" via "people's juries". At the start of her campaign she organised thousands of debates in which the public came to express their wishes and complaints.
According to Sineau, both candidates are "more pragmatic than their predecessors". "Rather than being ideologues, they raise issues and then offer solutions," she said.
The centrist Francois Bayrou is attempting something similar, with his proposal to form a government bringing together personalities of both left and right -- an idea which 65 percent of the public say they support.
If the prospect of a victory for the 78 year old far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is excluded, then -- like the rest of Europe -- France looks set to be governed for the first time by a leader born after World War II.
For Grunberg, the process of political renewal is likely to persist -- not least because of the public's growing influence on the choice of candidates via opinion polls.
"Public opinion wants there to be a structural renewal of France's elites, and it should be a long term phenomenon," he said.
Subject: French news