French communist in twilight election campaign

2nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 1, 2007 (AFP) - Thousands of French communists turned out Sunday to hear their candidate for president vow to slam the brakes on the free market even as polls show Marie-George Buffet is headed for the worst ever electoral drubbing of a communist.

PARIS, April 1, 2007 (AFP) - Thousands of French communists turned out Sunday to hear their candidate for president vow to slam the brakes on the free market even as polls show Marie-George Buffet is headed for the worst ever electoral drubbing of a communist.

Buffet is calling for redistributing billions of dollars in "hidden treasure" from company profits into the French social welfare system.

"Power to the shareholders, that's not my republic!" Buffet told some 12,000 supporters at a Paris sports stadium, just three weeks before the April 22 election.

Waving red flags and seated under huge banners of revolutionary icon Che Guevara, the crowd cheered as Buffet proclaimed that "there is still in France a left that has not given up."

"The France that I love will never accept the idea that it is outdated to strive for social progress," she said.

But Buffet is waging a twilight battle for the French presidency, deserted by many in the working class who now are more likely to vote for far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Polls show Buffet would get 2.0 percent of the vote, less than the 3.37 percent her predecessor Robert Hue scored 3.37 percent in the 2002 election, and well behind party stalwart George Marchais who picked up more than 15 percent of the vote in 1981.

Worse still, the 57-year-old mayor of the Paris suburb of Blanc-Mesnil is being outshined among far-left supporters by young Olivier Besancenot of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League.

An energetic orator, Besancenot, 32, is nearing five percent in the polls while fellow Trotskyist Arlette Laguiller is under two percent and anti-globalisation crusader Jose Bove is credited with one percent of the vote.

Six candidates to the left of the Socialist Party nominee Segolene Royal are campaigning in the French presidential election, an exception in Europe where communist parties have been on a steady decline since the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union.

For Buffet, crossing the five-percent threshold is crucial as French election law stipulates that campaign expenditures will be fully reimbursed by the state only if a candidate garners that percentage of votes.

Already the party's financial woes are making headlines with some 18 properties including a party school in Draveil, outside Paris, sold off to raise funds.

Founded 87 years ago, the French Communist party claims to have 134,000 members, making it the third largest political party in France after the governing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the Socialists.

The Communists hold 22 seats in the National Assembly and some 13,000 elected officials -- mostly mayors and city councillors -- are card-carrying members with two key Paris suburbs -- Val-de-Marne and Seine-Saint-Denis -- governed by a Communist majority.
 
But for Pierre Lemain, 61, a retired financial director for a private firm, and party member for 38 years, the Communist party is condemned to a slow and inevitable decline.

"We are part of the May '68 generation," he said, referring to the student movement that took to the streets in 1968 to press for sweeping change.

"We did things in a collective way. Today's generation has an individualistic approach," said Lemain.

Union activist Xavier Chuat, 54, said he would vote for Buffet as the only one "who defends the values of the left", which he said entailed "standing up to the bosses."
 
But he added that "the French left was a bit lost" following the outcome of the 2002 presidential election that saw Socialist Lionel Jospin knocked out of the race in favor of Le Pen, who went into the runoff vote that Jacques Chirac won.

The splintering of the vote on the left was blamed for Jospin's humiliating showing and Royal has urged supporters to rally behind her in the upcoming election to avoid a repeat of the 2002 outcome.

On Sunday, Buffet hit back at that strategy, saying that supporting Royal in the first round would mean that "the entire political spectrum has shifted to the right."

As has been the case for decades of French Communist party rallies, Sunday's gathering ended with a heart-felt rendering of the communist anthem, the Internationale.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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