Profile: Bayrou seeks to bridge left-right divide

26th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - Francois Bayrou, who has emerged as a surprisingly strong challenger in the presidential race, is a former teacher who believes France must jettison the "prehistoric" left-right political divide.

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - Francois Bayrou, who has emerged as a surprisingly strong challenger in the presidential race, is a former teacher who believes France must jettison the "prehistoric" left-right political divide.

The 55-year-old leader of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) has reaped spectacular success by offering a "Third Way" alternative for voters unhappy with Socialist Segolene Royal and right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

Described as the "neither/nor candidate," Bayrou is proposing the creation of a national unity government made up of moderates from the left and right, a platform that his rivals have dismissed as unworkable.

Born into a farming family in the Bearn region of southwest France, Bayrou makes much of his rural roots, carefully cultivating his image as a country boy.

He lives to be photographed driving a tractor on the family farm in his native Pyrenees village of Borderes, where he raises thoroughbred horses.

Bayrou entered politics in 1979 under the wing of President Valery Giscard D'Estaing, whose UDF party was a coalition of pro-European and Christian Democrat groups offering a centre-right alternative to the Gaullism of Jacques Chirac.

He was first elected to parliament from his Pyrenees region in 1986 and served as education minister between 1993 and 1997 in governments led by members of Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) party.

During his tenure as education minister, Bayrou was forced to back down on education reform when one million people took to the streets in 1994 to protest a plan to fund private schools.

In 1998 he became the UDF's president and made his first run at the presidency in 2002, winning 6.8 percent of the vote.

A stiff test came the same year, when a majority of UDF deputies defected to the newly-created Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) -- today headed by Sarkozy. Bayrou refused to give up his independence and held on to a rump of 30 MPs.

Married at the age of 20, he combined teaching Latin with farmwork after his father died in an accident. As a young man he overcame a stutter by reciting poetry in front of a mirror.

A father of six and a practising Catholic, Bayrou has also written a best-selling biography of King Henri IV, who succeeded in uniting the nation at the end of the 16th century wars of religion.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential elections

0 Comments To This Article