France's rudderless left looks beyond election victory

17th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

France's rudderless Socialists celebrated victory in local elections but the party's troubles were far from over as a leadership battle loomed.

   PARIS, March 17, 2008 - France's rudderless Socialists celebrated
victory in local elections on Sunday but the opposition party's troubles were
far from over as a leadership battle loomed.
   The elections saw Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe raise his profile against
Segolene Royal, who was trounced by Nicolas Sarkozy in presidential elections
last May.
   The Socialists took key cities from the right in the two-round local
elections, but analysts said the gains were not a ringing endorsement of the
main opposition party at the national level.
   "Victories in local elections do not automatically lead to bolstered
credibility on the national level," commented pollster Roland Cayrol.
   Lacking a clear political programme, the Socialists remain in disarray,
having lost three presidential elections in a row -- most humiliatingly in
2002 when Lionel Jospin was trounced by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in
the first round.
   The local elections campaign has re-ignited party rivalries ahead of a
leadership congress expected in the coming months.
   Both Delanoe and Royal are seen as serious contenders to replace party
leader Francois Hollande, who was Royal's former partner until an acrimonious
split in 2007. Hollande has held the top post for 10 years.
   Winning the party leadership would serve as a stepping stone for the
Socialist presidential nomination and a chance to challenge Sarkozy in the
2012 presidential vote.
   Delanoe, the 57-year-old mayor who roundly defeated a right-wing rival in
Paris, ranks as France's most popular politician according to public opinion
   But Royal, 54, considered a center-left Socialist who wants to become
France's first woman president, has consistently topped the list of most
popular leaders among left-wing voters.
   Commenting on the left's victory in the local polls, Royal said the task
ahead for the left was "to repair what the government has damaged and
   "We must be up to the task, to confront the disorder," she said. "Our
programme must show audacity."
   Already several senior Socialists including former prime minister Michel
Rocard have come out against Royal, arguing that giving her another chance at
the presidency would mean "certain defeat" for the left.
   One of Royal's advisers during the presidential campaign, Julien Dray, has
also come out against her bid to win the party leadership, saying it would
trigger a crisis in the party.
   One of the major challenges the Socialists face is whether to move away
from the traditional ideology of state intervention, as Social Democrats
elsewhere in Europe have done since the collapse of communism.
   Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister and party heavyweight who
now heads the International Monetary Fund, has called for a "broad party able
to encompass all of the left, from the centre-left to the more radical left."
   But his view is challenged by leftists such as former prime minister
Laurent Fabius. He argues that a shift to the centre will dilute the left and
cost it support.
   The Socialists came to power for the first time in 1981 with the election
of President Francois Mitterrand, who won again in 1988, but the dream of
returning to the Elysee has eluded them for the last three elections.
   Former labour minister Martine Aubry, who was re-elected in the northern
city of Lille, said it was "urgent" for Socialist leaders to "come together at
the same table."
   "We have to work collectively. We have at times set aside this objective
and the French voters did not appreciate this and they are right," she said.
   Former justice minister Elisabeth Guigou said the left should not become
complacent and ensure that "that we build an alternative" to the governing
   She said the left had to make proposals relevant to the "daily lives of the
French" and "provide a vision for France in Europe and in the world."


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