Royal fights off populism charge in debate

25th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 24, 2006 (AFP) - Rival contenders for the opposition Socialist Party nomination in France's presidential election faced off Tuesday in the second of three televised debates, with front-runner Segolene Royal forced to fight off accusations of populism.

PARIS, Oct 24, 2006 (AFP) - Rival contenders for the opposition Socialist Party nomination in France's presidential election faced off Tuesday in the second of three televised debates, with front-runner Segolene Royal forced to fight off accusations of populism.

The 53-year-old Royal -- who has challenged party orthodoxy with ideas such as boot camps for young delinquents -- rocked the boat again this week by suggesting that lawmakers should be made to appear before "citizens' juries".

Both her rivals, former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 57, and former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, 60, launched straight into an attack on her latest proposal.

Fabius warned against "embracing a kind of populism that is a breeding ground for the extreme-right," arguing that "putting elected officials under surveillance would create a distance, a suspicion that they do not deserve".

"If this debate enables us to get rid of a bad idea -- then that is a good thing," he concluded.

Strauss-Kahn argued that tensions between such juries and France's elected assemblies could be "very dangerous for democracy".

Royal hit back by charging that her critics were "afraid of the people", insisting that her proposal was a way to draw disillusioned voters back into the mainstream fold and fight off the far-right.

"I don't want to experience a repeat of April 21," she said, referring to far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen's shock victory over the Socialist candidate in the first round of the 2002 presidential election.

She also insisted the Socialist Party manifesto was "not the Little Red Book" -- in an apparent swipe at comments sparked by her popular juries idea, likening her to Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

The contenders fell into line on other key issues, with all saying they would back gay marriage and adoption.

All three joined in attacking the security policies of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right frontrunner for the election, but they took different tacks on illegal immigration, shaping up as a hot election topic.

Royal called for the restoration of automatic residency rights for migrants who have been 10 years in the country, Strauss-Kahn for a crackdown on people-traffickers, and Fabius for a large-scale immigrant amnesty.

Strauss-Kahn, who describes himself as a Social Democrat, and Fabius, who is running on a traditional left-wing platform, are vying for position with Royal ahead of an internal vote by 200,000 card-carrying party members on November 16 to designate a candidate for the election next April.

The debate was thought unlikely to dent Royal's strong poll lead, though Strauss-Kahn has been chipping away at her score since a first TV debate last week in which he gave a strong performance.

Polls say that Royal currently enjoys the backing of 61 percent of party sympathisers, while 28 percent support Strauss-Kahn, 57. Fabius, 60, is lagging with support from 11 percent, according to an Ipsos poll to appear in Le Point magazine.

The TV debate's rigid format -- with contenders reciting their positions in answer to prepared questions -- kept direct confrontation to a minimum although the tone was more heated than in last week's debate.

Observers believe the Socialist Party chose the format of the programme, broadcast live on the 24-hour news network LCI and the parliamentary channel, to ensure that the successful candidate emerges from the selection with their image intact.

The three contenders are to take part in a final televised debate on November 7, focusing on Europe and international affairs ahead of the internal party nomination vote.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article