Presidential pick dominates Socialist gathering

25th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

LA ROCHELLE, France, Aug 25, 2006 (AFP) - Delegates from France's main opposition Socialist party (PS) began a three-day meeting here Friday with the issue of the party's candidate in next year's presidential poll overshadowing their deliberations.

LA ROCHELLE, France, Aug 25, 2006 (AFP) - Delegates from France's main opposition Socialist party (PS) began a three-day meeting here Friday with the issue of the party's candidate in next year's presidential poll overshadowing their deliberations.

The western seaside town of La Rochelle lies in the Poitou-Charentes political stronghold of Ségolène Royal, identified by opinion polls as the strong favourite of party members and leftwing sympathisers.

More importantly, she is also seen as the socialist with the best chance of beating Nicolas Sarkozy, France's ambitious and energetic interior minister and the probable candidate of the right.

But as Royal, 53, an unmarried mother of four, welcomed delegates, in her audience were five men, more or less openly declared candidates, who think they should carry the PS colours in 2007. They include the father of Royal's children and longtime partner, PS leader François Hollande.

Other likely contenders are former prime minister and defeated presidential candidate in 2002 Lionel Jospin, former economy minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former prime minister Laurent Fabius and former education and culture minister Jack Lang.

Royal was warmly applauded by the thousands of party members gathered for the opening ceremony, some giving her a standing ovation.

She told her audience she was speaking as president of the Poitou-Charentes region and that alone "and that suits me". She went on to detail the achievements of the Socialists in the 20 out of 22 French regions they govern.

Party spokesman Julien Dray called Friday for a truce in the six-way rivalries.

"If this confrontation turns into a fratricidal war, if wounds are inflicted which cannot be mended, we risk recreating the conditions of 2002," he said.

In that year the vote on the left splintered between a plethora of candidates and Jospin was eliminated in the first round, leaving President Jacques Chirac and far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to contest a run off election, which Chirac won by a massive margin.

Jospin immediately quit the party leadership and appeared to withdraw from active politics.

The senior figures of the PS, known as the elephants, agree on little except that the candidate should not be Royal, accused among other vices of having an excessive admiration for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

She is also charged with lacking experience on the international stage, something she hopes to remedy with visits abroad in the coming weeks.

Her supporters stress her appeal as a new face and a break with the past.

A poll published in the leftwing newspaper Libération Friday showed that Royal was the pick of 55 percent of leftwing voters, with Strauss-Kahn, known as DSK, a distant second with 24 percent. Among Socialist smpathisers she led DSK by 66 percent to 35 percent.

Polls give conflicting views as to whether she could beat Sarkozy. And observers point out that so far ahead of the actual election opinion polls can be deceptive and in the past have proved wrong.

The PS candidate will be chosen later in the year. Nominations will open at the end of next month and close on October 3. The choice will be made in November and ratified on November 26.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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