Sarkozy shouldn't count his chickens yet: Villepin

20th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 19, 2006 (AFP) - Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted on Sunday that France's ruling party had not yet decided on a presidential candidate, despite his rival Nicolas Sarkozy being the clear favourite.

PARIS, Nov 19, 2006 (AFP) - Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted on Sunday that France's ruling party had not yet decided on a presidential candidate, despite his rival Nicolas Sarkozy being the clear favourite.

"I don't think we're at the end of the political debate about the eventual candidate of our family," Villepin told France 5 television, as the pressure mounted on the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) to make up its mind.

The ruling right-wing party risks being outmanoeuvred by the opposition Socialists, who have already voted resoundedly in favour of a popular female politician, Ségolène Royal, running in next year's presidential elections.

Villepin's rival and UMP head, Sarkozy, is the obvious front-runner for the party's nomination, but the situation is clouded by the fact that incumbent President Jacques Chirac, 73, has refused to confirm he will resign next year.

"We'll see how things shape up at the beginning of the year," Villepin added, noting that Chirac would also "say how he sees his own future" at the time.

Sarkozy is far and away its most popular figure, polling well ahead of both Chirac and Villepin. He is currently running neck-and-neck with Ségolène Royal, who clinched the Socialists' candidacy on Thursday.

But last week, Chirac's wife Bernadette suggested the president — who turns 74 at the end of the month — might bid for a third term in April's election, despite polls showing he has no chance of winning.

And Villepin told France 5 the situation still remained "very fluid."

Chirac's preferred heir, Villepin was once considered another likely contender. But his ratings have plummeted since he took office last year, over a series of unpopular reforms.

Officially, Villepin claims he has no presidential ambitions, and he repeated Sunday it was necessary "for someone to head the government" until the vote.

He also said it was likely Sarkozy would resign from the government, should he be tapped as the UMP candidate.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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