Former PM Jospin fails to rouse voters' interest

14th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 14, 2006 (AFP) - Former French prime minister Lionel Jospin — a two-time loser in presidential elections — is considering a third bid as Socialist candidate for April 2007, but so far his campaign has raised little enthusiasm and polls put him far behind the PS frontrunner Ségolène Royal.

PARIS, Sept 14, 2006 (AFP) - Former French prime minister Lionel Jospin — a two-time loser in presidential elections — is considering a third bid as Socialist candidate for April 2007, but so far his campaign has raised little enthusiasm and polls put him far behind the PS frontrunner Ségolène Royal.

Nearly five years ago Jospin created consternation across the country when he was defeated in the first round of the election by the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The failure of a left-wing candidate to win through to the run-off was seen as a political earthquake in France, and a personal humiliation for Jospin — a former Trotsykist often criticised for his "austere" temperament.

Two months ago Jospin declared that he was "available" to "rally the left and the country," as Royal — for whom he does not conceal a certain distaste — established herself as the favourite in the polls.

But to get back into the race Jospin had first to lance the boil of 21 April, 2002 — the date of his humiliation, after which he had vowed to retire from politics. Many PS supporters have never forgiven him for — as they see it — abandoning a sinking ship.

In August — at the PS summer 'university' — Jospin for the first time spoke publicly about the defeat. With tears in his eyes, he spoke of a "cruel" and "unjust" experience, and said his retirement from politics had been a kind of sacrifice to improve PS chances in the subsequent legislative elections.

But despite his efforts, his offer to come back to the service of the party has failed to arouse much enthusiasm.

Among potential PS voters, many still see him as the man responsible for the 2002 debacle. They note that he also lost the 1995 election to President Jacques Chirac. Only 15 percent of them want him to be the PS candidate in next year's election, compared to 51 percent for Ségolène Royal.

And among PS members too — who will vote on the candidate in November — there is little sign of a groundswell of support.

Some of his political allies continue to brandish his name, urging the PS to take into account his experience, his "credit" on the international stage, and his unquestioned moral integrity.

But some former allies — including the heads of powerful regional branches of the party — have defected to Royal. Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the PS bloc in the National Assembly, even urged Jospin to stay in retirement because "France has changed."

"Right or wrong, it is Ségolène who embodies renewal," said former minister Jean-Louis Blanco, who has also rallied to her side. Of some 80,000 new recruits to the PS since late last year, many have been drawn to the party by the Ségolène "phenomenon".

According to Jean-Luc Parodi of the French Review of Political Sciences, Jospin "no longer has the capacity to make people dream".

"He has occupied practically the highest function in the state — that of prime minister during a cohabitation (when Chirac was president) — which is almost like being president. People have the feeling they know all about him."

"He wants to give himself to the left, but the operation if looking more and more pathetic," said Marianne magazine. The left-wing Le Nouvel Observateur magazine warned that in "opposing Royal, Jospin risks killing the PS's best electoral chance."

The former prime minister is waiting for a signal from PS first secretary François Hollande — who is also Royal's partner. But Hollande has so far failed to make any sign, partly because he is himself considering a presidential bid.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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