Royal comes out fighting as Sarkozy struggles

27th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 26, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal on Sunday officially launched her campaign to become France's first woman president at a congress of her Socialist Party as her main rival on the ruling right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, struggled to mount a challenge.

PARIS, Nov 26, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal on Sunday officially launched her campaign to become France's first woman president at a congress of her Socialist Party as her main rival on the ruling right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, struggled to mount a challenge.

Royal, an ever-smiling 53-year-old who is the favourite in polls to win the presidential elections next April and May, accepted her opposition party's nomination with a rousing speech calling for all members to step in behind her.

"A new hope has arisen on the left which will only grow into victory in 2007," she told the gathering of 1,300 cheering party delegates.

A party primary held November 16 overwhelmingly nominated her over two rivals to compete in the presidential elections which will decide the successor to President Jacques Chirac.

Sunday's congress was the endorsement of that internal vote, and a platform for Royal to make the first of many speeches she hopes will bolster her chances to win the presidency.

She called for unity in the Socialist Party, saying: "I have need of everyone, of everybody's talents, of all the Socialists and this victory is the victory of all the Socialists."

Chirac himself has not ruled out trying for a third mandate, but his age — he turns 74 on Wednesday — and his lack of popularity make that unlikely.

Sarkozy, who leads Chirac's conservative Union for a Popular Movement, is the only politician on the right who currently has the public support to derail Royal's drive for the country's top job.

But while the 51-year-old minister has made no secret of his burning ambition to become president, a long-running feud with Chirac has hobbled his chances, to his evident frustration.

On the right, Chirac allies Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie have positioned themselves as potential rival candidates to Sarkozy, even though both have lacklustre showings in the polls.

Sarkozy is seeking to out-manoeuvre them, but is doing so cautiously. He has said he will declare his presidential ambitions within the coming days, likely Thursday or Friday.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, speaking on French radio, warned against divisions in the ruling party, saying that "anybody who tries to go against the candidate chosen by the UMP after a debate will be creating a major risk of defeat for our side."

In the meantime both Sarkozy and Royal are having to fight separate rearguard actions against detractors.

In Sarkozy's case, his reputation as a hardline interior minister focused on law and order and cutting illegal immigration has proved both a rallying point for supporters and a handicap for critics, effectively making him a highly polarising figure.

Royal, on the other hand, has largely avoided wading into controversial policy areas, preferring to deliver reassuring if sometimes vague pronouncements. The result has been that some criticise her as a populist — but, if the polls are to be believed, one preferable to Sarkozy's demagogy.

A survey published Thursday and carried out by the BVA institute found that 42 percent of French voters thought Royal would make a better president than Sarkozy, who had 36 percent support, even though he was seen as more of a statesman and thus better suited to representing France abroad.

Royal's appeal, that and other surveys have found, is that she is seen as kinder, more modern and symbolising a break with France's male-centric political past.

Voters say employment tops the list of their concerns as they head towards the elections. A CSA survey released Sunday showed that was the main worry for 38 percent, ahead of law and order, which preoccupied 27 percent.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news


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