Royal in make-or-break bid for centrist votes

26th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 26, 2007 (AFP) - French Socialist Segolene Royal forged ahead Thursday with a make-or-break bid to conquer the political centre, seen as key to her presidential chances against the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, April 26, 2007 (AFP) - French Socialist Segolene Royal forged ahead Thursday with a make-or-break bid to conquer the political centre, seen as key to her presidential chances against the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

For Royal and Sarkozy alike, the 6.8 million voters who backed the centrist Francois Bayrou in Sunday's first round are crucial to ultimate victory, giving him a role of kingmaker ahead of the May 6 divider.

Though Bayrou's party has traditionally been allied with the right, he burned his bridges with Sarkozy on Wednesday, attacking the former interior minister as a "danger to democracy" with a taste for "threat and intimidation".

He refused to give voting instructions for round two, and attacked Royal's programme as a "threat to the economy", but hinted he could still be persuaded to back her if she revises her proposals.

With many of Bayrou's voters unsure who to back in round two, a message from him could swing the balance in favour of Royal, who is trailing several points behind Sarkozy in opinion polls.

Royal's Socialist Party (PS) announced she would hold a televised public meeting Saturday with Bayrou aimed at proving his attacks wrong.

"His criticisms are aimed at a kind of Socialism that is not ours. He accuses Segolene Royal of being for an all-powerful state, of being out of tough with the modern econony," said Vincent Peillon, her campaign spokesman.

"She is not. We do not believe in a state-planned economy."

On Monday Royal made a powerful overture to the centrist camp, promising ministerial posts in a future government, at the risk of alienating her supporters on the hard left.

The left-wing newspaper Liberation, which backs Royal's candidacy, said the prospect of a Socialist-centrist alliance -- though still highly uncertain -- offered a precious chance of renewal for the French left.

"Whatever... the dinosaurs think, the PS has no choice but to turn to the centre-left. The change that is hinted at answers a fundamental wish of all those who want to modernise French political life," it wrote in an editorial.

"Things are shifting... Since Monday, since Segolene Royal took a risk, something is happening in the country," said PS spokesman Julien Dray.

But two prominent left-wingers from Royal's party, deputies Michel Charzat and Alain Vidalies, attacked her strategy.

For Vidalies, "such a radical evolution, which would change the very nature of the Socialist Party, cannot be improvised betwen the two rounds of the presidential election".

Anxious to reassure their camp, both Royal and the Socialist Party have insisted their contacts with Bayrou aimed to convince his voters -- not strike an electoral deal with his party, the Union for French Democracy (UDF).

"Francois Bayrou does not want to sign up to our presidential pact and does not want to build a presidential majority with us," PS leader Francois Hollande, who is also Royal's partner, said on Thursday.

On Wednesday Bayrou also ruled out any electoral deal with the PS or Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), announcing the creation of a new party, the Democratic Party, to contest legislative elections in June.

Sarkozy -- who will face off with Royal in a televised debate on May 2 but has refused any discussion with Bayrou -- dismissed the Socialists' courtship of him as "ridiculous".

"There is one debate, between the two candidates selected for the second round. All the rest is just politicking, and invariably ends in ridicule," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy's camp has used a carrot-and-stick approach towards the centrists, offering them a place in his government, while threatening to scrap electoral deals that allowed its members to win seats in parliament.

On Thursday former right-wing prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Education Minister Gilles de Robien, a UDF member who broke with Bayrou to back Sarkozy, launched a joint website to emphasise their agreements on policy.

Opinion polls give varying figures on how Bayrou's supporters will vote. One said 46 percent will back Royal and only 25 percent Sarkozy. But another on Thursday put them closer at 39 percent and 32, respectively. Many said they will abstain or spoil their vote.

France is choosing a successor to 74 year-old Jacques Chirac -- president since 1995 -- in an election that has become the focus of impassioned debate about the country's future direction.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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