Profile: Royal faces uphill fight

26th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party (PS) candidate who shot to political stardom thanks to a highly personal campaigning style, has lost much of her shine since the start of the year but still sees herself as on course to becoming France's first woman president.

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party (PS) candidate who shot to political stardom thanks to a highly personal campaigning style, has lost much of her shine since the start of the year but still sees herself as on course to becoming France's first woman president.

The 53 year-old former environment minister took the country by storm last year, emerging from nowhere to win the PS nomination over two senior party heavyweights and posing a serious challenge to right-wing contender Nicolas Sarkozy.

But since January her standing has been eroded by a series of gaffes, signs of dissent inside her own camp and a less-than-triumphant election manifesto launch. PS insiders are fearful she could even be beaten in the April 22 first round by the centre candidate Francois Bayrou.

Royal's rise owed much to her image as a woman operating outside of the traditional party structure. Voters initially gave a warm response to a politician who seemed willing to break taboos -- calling for "boot camps" for young offenders for example and "popular juries" to assess elected officials.

*sidebar1*In fact her political background was strictly conventional. After attending the elite National Administration School ENA, she was cherry-picked by socialist president Francois Mitterand's cabinet director and spent six years as an Elysee adviser.

In 1988 she was elected to the National Assembly and four years later had her first -- brief -- cabinet post at the environment ministry. In the socialist government of 1997 to 2002 she was junior minister for education, then the family.

Royal's breakthrough came in the regional elections of 2004 when she wrested control of the Poitou-Charentes region from then prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. After that she was marked by the media as a "woman-to-watch."

One of eight children of a military officer from Lorraine in northeast France, Royal is the partner of PS leader Francois Hollande -- with whom she has four children.

Elegant and immaculately turned out -- last year she was voted the world's sixth sexiest woman in a French magazine -- she is also articulate, outspoken and believes profoundly in the mission to create a new contract between politicians and the public.

However detractors say she is an authoritarian with -- in the words of PS dissident Eric Besson -- "an ultra-personal conception of power." Critics on the right say that the manifesto speech of February 11 was nakedly left-wing  and stripped away any pretence of a Tony Blair-style "third way."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential elections

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