Race tight as Royal faces first election hurdle

10th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 12, 2006 (AFP) – Ségolène Royal, the socialist with high hopes of being France's first woman president after elections in April, said Sunday she was confident of victory in this week's vote for the party nomination despite a narrowing lead over her two more experienced rivals.

PARIS, Nov 12, 2006 (AFP) – Ségolène Royal, the socialist with high hopes of being France's first woman president after elections in April, said Sunday she was confident of victory in this week's vote for the party nomination despite a narrowing lead over her two more experienced rivals.

With four days to go till Thursday's internal vote by Socialist party (PS) members, the 53-year-old former junior minister said she had emerged strengthened from a month of primary campaigning including six debates with opponents Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

"It was the other two who wanted these debates because they doubted my capabilities ... But at the end of the process my legitimacy is no longer in question," she told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

"I am the only one who can win against the right. I embody the profound change that people are crying out for. Many see me as the candidate against the powers-that-be .... For the symbolic father of the nation to be a woman — now that's a revolution," she said.

A new poll Sunday showed that Royal, who has emerged from nowhere in a year to be France's most talked-about politician, enjoys a clear majority of support — 58 percent — among PS sympathisers, with former finance minister Strauss-Kahn on 32 percent and former prime minister Fabius on nine.

However this was a fall of five points compared to two weeks ago, and — like all polls — it failed to take into account that the 200,000 who will choose the PS presidential nominee are card-carrying party members and not from the general public.

Both Strauss-Kahn, 57, and Fabius, 60, expressed optimism Sunday that they can together reduce Royal's vote on Thursday to under 50 percent — thus forcing an unpredictable second round vote a week later between the two leading candidates.

Commentators agreed that Fabius's low showing in polls did not reflect his true standing in the party, where he has extensive networks of influence on the left, while Strauss-Kahn has made steady progress following the debates — three of which were televised.

Many long-standing members of the party are receptive to criticism that Royal has played on her glamour to build an anti-establishment image that goes down well with the voting public but has little political substance.

However they could be outnumbered by a large intake of new activists — some 80,000 since the start of the year — who were drawn by Royal's originality and energy. Many also see her as the best way of ensuring victory over the likely right-wing candidate, ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the latest of a series of collisions with PS orthodoxy, Royal — who is head of the Poitou-Charentes regional council — was accused of pandering to the public after she appeared in a pirated video last week berating teachers for not spending enough time in the classroom.

A spokesman described the video's release on the Internet as a "stupid last minute manoeuvre to discredit her".

Previously she has angered the party 'elephants' — as its traditional leaders are known — by calls for boot-camps for young delinquents, greater freedom for parents to choose schools for their children, and "popular juries" for the public to monitor politicians.

Former socialist prime minister Michel Rocard said over the weekend that she lacks the "authority and respect" that a French president needs on the world stage.

"The next president will be assailed by major international problems the day after his or her inauguration. I do not doubt that Madame Royal is capable of acquiring (authority and respect) but it will take her a year and a half or two," he said.

Rocard said that Fabius — who urged a 'no' vote in last year's referendum on the EU's proposed constitution — "does not have the respect of the international community", so he urged party members to vote for Strauss-Kahn.

Former justice minister Marylise Lebranchu also said she would vote for DSK — as he is known — who is seen as a business-friendly social-democrat.

"His European and international experience are major assets for our country in the 21st century, when most of the big issues will go beyond the strictly national context," she said.

Thursday's vote will take place from 4pm to 10pm in some 4,000 regional branches. The results will not be known until Friday morning.

The presidential election takes place on Sunday April 22. A second round will be held on May 6 if none of the candidates garners more than 50 percent of the votes.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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