Royal under pressure to step up campaign

31st January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 31, 2007 (AFP) - Socialist challenger for the French presidency Segolene Royal was under pressure to revitalise her flagging campaign Wednesday, after more polls showed her slipping badly behind right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, Jan 31, 2007 (AFP) - Socialist challenger for the French presidency Segolene Royal was under pressure to revitalise her flagging campaign Wednesday, after more polls showed her slipping badly behind right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

In her worst rating since she officially entered the race in November, an IPSOS survey for Le Point magazine gave Royal just 46 percent of the vote compared to 54 percent for the interior minister and head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

With a second survey for Paris-Match magazine Wednesday putting Royal behind at 48 percent to 52, in all nine separate polls have given a clear lead to Sarkozy since he was anointed as the UMP's candidate at a party congress on January 14.

Socialist Party (PS) deputies downplayed the findings -- pointing out that there are still nearly three months till round one of the elections -- but many conceded that there is growing impatience for Royal to step up the pace by releasing her manifesto.

"It is certainly worrying," said PS National Assembly member Christian Bataille in reaction to the polls. "We need to start getting down to politics straight away. We have had the wind behind us, but it is blowing less strongly now."

Royal, 53, has been damaged by a series of gaffes on foreign issues -- for example her praise for the Chinese justice system and apparent support last week for independence in the French-speaking Canadian province in Quebec.

There are also questions about coordination between her campaign and the PS apparatus, which is under the control of her partner Francois Hollande. Many are concerned by reports that the country's 800,000 teachers -- normally Socialist stalwarts -- are increasingly disenchanted with her performance.

But commentators said Royal's most pressing handicap is that she has deliberately delayed presenting a political programme in order to spend a long period of "consultation" with the French people via a series of nationwide "participative debates".

The strategy is in line with her vision of a new style of "people's democracy" intended to bridge the divide between public and a discredited political class, but it has left the policy field wide open for Sarkozy and other opponents.

"Amid all the chatter it is impossible to hear the candidate, who gives the impression of avoiding decisions and postponing answers. Suddenly the ground is free for her opponents, who for their part are indeed proposing, propounding -- and progressing," said veteran political analyst Alain Duhamel.

Royal's campaign was also hit by the defection Tuesday of one of the country's leading left-wing philosophers. In an article in Le Monde Andre Glucksmann said that the PS was "marinating in narcissism" and that Sarkozy represented more faithfully France's heritage of humanitarian engagement in the world.

The Socialist candidate has set February 11 as the date when she will move to the next phase of her campaign by unveiling the results of her "consultation", but there were growing signs that she would bring this forward by setting out some new policies in the coming days.

In the meantime the PS focussed a counterattack on Sarkozy's decision to stay at the interior ministry until late March, despite charges that it gives him an unfair advantage in the presidential race.

In the last week the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine has twice reported that a police intelligence service controlled by the interior ministry conducted politically sensitive investigations -- into a senior member of Royal's campaign team and into the candidate's own property portfolio.

Sarkozy has firmly denied using the General Intelligence (RG) agency for political ends.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Royal

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