Socialist nominations close; Royal firm favourite

3rd October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 3, 2006 (AFP) - With nominations set to close Tuesday for the opposition Socialist Party (PS) primary ahead of April's presidential election in France, three candidates were in the running — with popular favourite Ségolène Royal facing off against two more experienced opponents.

PARIS, Oct 3, 2006 (AFP) - With nominations set to close Tuesday for the opposition Socialist Party (PS) primary ahead of April's presidential election in France, three candidates were in the running — with popular favourite Ségolène Royal facing off against two more experienced opponents.

The deadline for PS contenders to register for the race was to fall mid-afternoon, after which a six-week campaign will take place in which the rivals will lobby for the support of the party's 200,000 card-carrying members.

An internal party poll to choose the sole PS candidate will take place on November 16, with a possible second round run-off a week later if no candidate reaches 50 percent.

The winner will lead the challenge to retake the presidency for the left for the first time since François Mitterrand in 1995. He or she will face a right-wing candidate almost certain to be Interior Minister and ruling party chief Nicolas Sarkozy.

President Jacques Chirac, 73, has not ruled out standing for a third term but is considered most unlikely to do so.

Opinion polls taken among PS supporters give Royal, 53 year-old head of the Poitou-Charentes regional council, a commanding lead over her two rivals for the nomination: former prime minister Laurent Fabius, 60, and former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 57.

Other possible candidates including former prime minister Lionel Jospin, former culture minister Jack Lang and the party's nominal leader Francois Hollande — who is also Royal's partner — have withdrawn from the running in the last days.

Royal, an elegant former environment minister who a year ago was regarded as a complete outsider, has run a highly effective pre-campaign by distancing herself from the party establishment and wooing the public via an Internet site and constant exposure in the mass media.

She has earned the wrath of many in the PS hierarchy, who believe she has deviated from party orthodoxy with her pronouncements on punishments for young offenders, schools reform and the 35 hour week.

However polls show she is the only candidate with a chance of beating Sarkozy next year.

Strauss-Kahn, who as finance minister in the late 1990s oversaw a wave of privatisations, is seen as a social democrat in the more conservative wing of the party. Announcing his candidacy last Friday, he said he was best-placed to stop a right-wing victory at the elections.

Fabius was France's youngest prime minister in the 1980s when he was seen as a liberal, but in the last two years he has shifted sharply to the left. Last year he championed the victorious "non" camp in the referendum on the EU's proposed constitution.

Though polls show Royal with a massive lead among party backers, there is widespread speculation about her appeal to the paid-up party members — who will be actually casting a vote next month.

While many long-term activists are likely to favour establishment figures such as Strauss-Kahn and Fabius, a recruitment drive since the start of the year has brought in up to 80,000 new members, many of them attracted by the enthusiasm surrounding Royal's campaign.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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