New French Communist leader vows to build leftist front
French Communists on Sunday elected a new leader who promised to reach out to left-wing parties to build a strong front against President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Pierre Laurent, the 52-year-old former news editor at the communist newspaper L'Humanite, replaced Marie-George Buffet who had been the party's secretary general for the past nine years.
Laurent told some 600 delegates that he wanted to create a "permanent contact group" with other parties to promote unity on the left and prepare to challenge Sarkozy in the 2012 elections.
"Let's together clearly say that from now until 2012, Sarkozy will not gain any ground," he said after winning nearly 81 percent of the vote at a party congress in La Defense, west of Paris.
"Let's not give a millimetre to those who want workers to foot the bill for the economic crisis. We must multiply the responses from many fronts in all areas," said Laurent.
France's plethora of left-wing parties coupled with divisions within the main opposition Socialist Party have helped keep the right in power at the Elysee palace for the past 15 years.
While the French Communist Party has steadily lost clout since the end of the Cold War, it still controls several dozen town councils across France and has 13 deputies and 21 senators in parliament.
Laurent is picking up the baton after a disastrous reign by Buffet, a former sports minister who picked up less than two percent of the vote in the 2007 election, the worst-ever showing by a Communist presidential candidate.
The son of a prominent party member, Paul Laurent, he led a coalition of left-wing parties on the ballot for the Paris area during regional elections this year and won 6.55 percent of the vote.
That score was considered a good showing, in particular since he managed to outshine Olivier Besancenot, the charismatic leader of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) who picked up about three percent.
The soft-spoken bespectacled leader has said he wants to move forward, breaking free from the nostalgia of the party's heyday in the 60s and 70s and ensure it still has a say in French politics.
© 2010 AFP