Royal faces uphill fight to become first woman president

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate who shot to political stardom thanks to a highly personal campaigning style, has lost some of her shine but still sees herself as France's first woman president.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate who shot to political stardom thanks to a highly personal campaigning style, has lost some of her shine but still sees herself as France's first woman president.

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

But since January her standing has been eroded by a series of gaffes, signs of dissent within her own camp and a less-than-triumphant election manifesto launch.

Socialist Party insiders are fearful she could even be beaten in Sunday's first round of voting by the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, who has consistently held third place in the polls in recent weeks.

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.

In fact her political background was strictly conventional.

After attending the elite National Administration School ENA, she was cherry-picked by socialist president Francois Mitterrand and spent six years as an adviser in the Elysee presidential palace.

In 1988 she was elected to the National Assembly and four years later -- for just one year -- held her first ministerial post at the department of the environment.

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 Socialist 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.

But detractors say she is an authoritarian with, in the words of Socialist 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."

But in March she was accused of playing into the hands of the far-right after calling for her supporters to reclaim the national anthem and flag from French nationalists.

Royal's rallies have been wrapping up with loudspeakers blasting out the national anthem, "La Marseillaise," which is more often associated in French politics with Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front party.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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