Real race begins for Socialist presidential ticket

2nd October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 1, 2006 (AFP) - The race opens this week for the prize of carrying the opposition Socialist Party (PS) banner in France's approaching elections, with the star of the opinion polls Ségolène Royal well-positioned to pursue her bid to be the country's first woman president.

PARIS, Oct 1, 2006 (AFP) - The race opens this week for the prize of carrying the opposition Socialist Party (PS) banner in France's approaching elections, with the star of the opinion polls Ségolène Royal well-positioned to pursue her bid to be the country's first woman president.

As official declarations came in over the weekend for the PS primary next month, the 53 year-old head of Poitou-Charentes regional council confirmed her strong lead over more experienced colleagues — with a survey for Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper giving her 49 percent support among party backers.

Her nearest rival for the nomination, former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had 14 percent; former culture minister Jack Lang had eight percent; and former prime minister Laurent Fabius had six percent. The rest of the vote went to personalities who are unlikely to stand.

Nominations close on Tuesday afternoon, after which follow six weeks of campaigning — including six debates between the candidates — culminating with a vote of some 200,000 card-carrying PS members on November 16.

The winner will lead the campaign to retake the Elysée palace for the left in elections next April, in which the right will almost certainly be represented by Interior Minister and ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy, 51. President Jacques Chirac, 73, is thought unlikely to run again.

Strauss-Kahn, 57, seen as representing the social-democrat right wing of the party, was the first to announce his candidacy on Friday, followed a few hours later by Royal who told a rally in the southern town of Vitrolles that she was ready to "assume this mission of conquest ... and the trials that go with it".

Left-winger Fabius, 60, who championed the victorious "no" cause in last year's referendum on the EU's proposed constitution, entered the race at a conference in southern France Sunday, promising to make "housing, jobs and health the key points of the campaign".

Lang, 67, was said to be having difficulties finding the 30 sponsors needed to enter the race, while a fifth possible contender — PS First Secretary Francois Hollande, who is also Royal's partner — withdrew over the weekend.

Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, 69, who had kept the country guessing over a possible bid for the nomination, also withdrew last Thursday — pointedly refusing to endorse Royal despite her clear lead in the polls.

Royal has come from nowhere in less than a year to being the only politician in France who polls say can beat Sarkozy in the presidentials. According to commentators, it is because she has cleverly distanced herself from the PS establishment and is seen by the public as a new style of leader.

However many inside the PS accuse Royal of substituting appearance for argument, and bypassing the party apparatus with a campaign that relies heavily on image and media management.

Former minister Claude Allegre, an ally of Jospin, said Sunday that "what I don't like about her attitude is the way she casually bangs away at her rivals, and then is always putting herself forward as the victim."

Another Jospin aide, former minister Manuel Valls, said he was "very concerned by the state of the left, which is crumbling, in a worse situation than in 2002 (when Jospin was beaten by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of the presidential election).

"And I am concerned about the PS, which no longer has a backbone," Valls said.

Though Royal is the clear favourite among party sympathisers, the November 16 vote is among party members — who may be less smitten by her meteoric success. Her rivals are hoping to muster a blocking majority, forcing a run-off with the best-placed contender on November 23.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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