Sarkozy camp in pole position for parliamentary vote

21st May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 21, 2007 (AFP) - Official campaigning kicked off Monday for France's parliamentary elections, with President Nicolas Sarkozy increasingly confident of winning the majority needed to drive through ambitious reforms.

PARIS, May 21, 2007 (AFP) - Official campaigning kicked off Monday for France's parliamentary elections, with President Nicolas Sarkozy increasingly confident of winning the majority needed to drive through ambitious reforms.

Just weeks after the hard-fought presidential contest, French voters return to the polls on June 10 and 17 to elect the 577 members of the lower house National Assembly.

Sarkozy's newly-appointed Prime Minister Francois Fillon will spearhead the campaign for the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, to be launched officially Wednesday following two days of strategy meetings in Paris.

Fillon has warned supporters not to underestimate the battle ahead, stressing the need for a clear majority to push through Sarkozy's programme, starting with a tax and labour reform package to be rolled out over the summer.

But with the Socialist Party in disarray following the defeat of its candidate Segolene Royal, Sarkozy's UMP appears on course to win a sweeping majority.

According to a TNS-SOFRES opinion poll, the party would secure 365 to 415 seats, against 137 to 153 for the main opposition Socialists. The Communist Party would take two to nine seats, with two or three going to the new centrist party founded by presidential candidate Francois Bayrou, Modem.

The poll suggests Sarkozy's broad-based government unveiled Friday, in which half the posts went to women and the foreign ministry to leading left-winger Bernard Kouchner, is riding a wave of goodwill.

Sixty-one percent of voters are happy with its line-up, while the government's star figures -- Kouchner, Justice Minister Rachida Dati, the first North African in such a high-profile post, and Finance Minister Jean-Louis Borloo -- get approval ratings higher than 70 percent.

Sarkozy also gets a thumbs-up from 94 percent of voters for his decision to create an environment superministry, as well as the controversial ministry of immigration, national identity and co-development, backed by 72 percent.

"It's a state of grace" for the Sarkozy team, wrote the right-wing Le Figaro.

Bitterly divided after Royal's defeat -- the third presidential election they have lost in a row -- and trailing the UMP in the polls, the Socialists face the demoralising prospect of another electoral drubbing.

"Since no one on the left seriously imagines a victory, the speculation -- and the fear -- surrounds the scale of their defeat," the left-wing newspaper in an article entitled "Fear of the UMP steam-roller."

The Socialist Party accuses Sarkozy's camp of attempting to destabilise it by recruiting Kouchner and three other left-wingers to junior government posts, denouncing the move as a spin operation.

Former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius Monday urged his camp to close ranks to "balance out powers" in the National Assembly.

But party members fear the naming of the popular human rights champion could have a knock-on effect at the ballot box.

"Seeing Kouchner shining at Sarkozy's side, our voters may choose not to turn out for the vote, deciding we perhaps made a mistake in the presidential campaign," a left-wing deputy was quoted as saying in Liberation.

Returning from a weekend with his wife Cecilia at Bregancon Fort, a presidential retreat on the French Riviera, Sarkozy was to kick off his first full week in power with meetings on Europe and the environment, two of his declared priorities.

On Monday Sarkozy hosted talks with European Parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering on his calls for a slimmed-down European treaty to replace the constitution rejected by French voters in 2005.

He then met Alain Juppe, who has taken the helm of a new super-ministry for sustainable development, and environmental campaigners to hammer out plans for a national conference on the environment in the autumn.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article