Far-left fighting for air in French election race

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Far-left candidates in France's presidential election grabbed almost a quarter of the vote in 2002 but face a drubbing this time as left-wing voters close ranks around the Socialist champion Segolene Royal.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Far-left candidates in France's presidential election grabbed almost a quarter of the vote in 2002 but face a drubbing this time as left-wing voters close ranks around the Socialist champion Segolene Royal.

It is a crowded field to Royal's left, with voters courted by three Trotskyites, a Communist, a Green, and the moustachioed farmer-activist Jose Bove, most of them promising to slam the brakes on the free market, by way of revolution if need be.

Pledges to ramp up taxes on company profits, hand power to workers and ban firms from firing staff go down well in a country where two-thirds of voters say they do not believe in the market economy.

For political scientist Philippe Raynaud of Paris II university, the ideas of the far-left are "in tune with the people's aspirations" in a country where "mistrust of economic 'liberalism' is widespread."

Dominique Reynie, professor at the Paris School of Political Science, says the radical left also has continuing appeal for a cultural mindset forged by the French revolutions of 1789 and 1858.

But this year the combined score of the non-Socialist left -- who clocked up 26.5 percent of the vote in 2002 -- is stalling at 10.5 percent, according to a CSA poll published this week.

Leading the pack is a 33-year-old postman, Olivier Besancenot, the articulate and telegenic candidate of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) whose slogan is "our lives are worth more than their profits" and who is credited with four percent of votes.

Besancenot wants to ban companies from sacking workers, shorten the work-week from 35 to 32 hours -- a target shared by Bove and the Communist Marie-Georges Buffet -- pull France out of NATO and bring home all French troops stationed abroad.

No other candidate musters more than two percent, not even the veteran workers' Struggle candidate, 67-year-old typist Arlette Laguiller -- known to the French public simply as Arlette -- who is running for the sixth time.

Even the popular anti-globalisation activist Bove, whose media-savvy campaign tactics have ranged from a march on parliament to sit-ins with striking workers, clocks up a meagre 1.5 percent support.

For pollsters the explanation is simple: voters are afraid of a repeat of 2002 when the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the Socialist Party (PS) candidate into the run-off against Jacques Chirac.

The shock outcome was blamed largely on the high number of alternative left-wing candidates in the first round, who starved the Socialist Lionel Jospin of support.

PS leaders have been urging left-wingers to cast a "useful vote" that will keep the left in the race against right-wing favourite Nicolas Sarkozy, and bar the road to Le Pen.

Repeated like a mantra throughout the campaign, despite complaints from small candidates that it is stifling voters' choice, the call for a tactical vote appears to have hit home.

CSA credits the Socialist candidate Royal with 25 percent of voting intentions in Sunday's first round -- two points behind Sarkozy -- considerably higher than Jospin's poll score of 18 percent a week before the vote.

"People remember the election of 2002 -- they don't want to run the risk of seeing the left cut out of the race in round two," said Roland Cayrol, director of the polling institute.

More than three quarters of voters say it would have "very serious" consequences for the French left and for France's image abroad if Le Pen beats Royal into round two, according to an LH2 poll for Liberation newspaper.

Jean-Noel Thiel, 50, a construction manager from the Jura region in eastern France who voted for the far-left in 2002, said the threat of seeing Le Pen in the run-off would weigh on his vote.

"It's about making a useful vote -- we need to avoid both extremes, even if it means we are voting against someone, not out of conviction," said Thiel, who believes most of his colleagues think the same way.

"I feel closer to the far-left candidates than Segolene -- they have a real project for society even if its hard to carry out in today's world," said Michel Level, a 53-year-old insurance salesman from the central city of Niort.

"But I think I'm going to vote useful this time, not like in 2002."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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