Socialist rivals gather for last debate ahead of nomination

7th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 7, 2006 (AFP) - Candidates for the Socialist nomination in the French presidential race hold their last televised debate Tuesday ahead of next week's vote of party members, with the favourite Ségolène Royal fending off a growing challenge from her two rivals.

PARIS, Nov 7, 2006 (AFP) - Candidates for the Socialist nomination in the French presidential race hold their last televised debate Tuesday ahead of next week's vote of party members, with the favourite Ségolène Royal fending off a growing challenge from her two rivals.

Just nine days before the crucial ballot, supporters of Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn insist that the gap separating them from Royal is narrowing and hope to force a second round of voting on November 23.

The evening debate — their third before the cameras — is to focus on foreign affairs, Europe and the environment, issues on which the two former senior ministers believe their longer experience in government gives them an edge over Royal.

The 53-year-old head of the Poitou-Charentes regional council has been criticised for failing to take a lead on key questions — notably concerning Turkish entry into the EU on which she said last month that her opinion "was that of the French people."

However her performance in the two previous debates laid to rest suggestions that she is unable to hold her own against the two Socialist Party heavyweights, and commentators said the onus remains on Fabius and Strauss-Kahn to pull off a surprise coup.

In the same non-confrontational format that has been attacked for stifling genuine discussion, the three candidates were expected to answer questions on the future of the European Union, the Middle East, relations with the United States and defense.

Fabius, 60, a former prime minister, was alone of the three to back the victorious "no" camp in last year's referendum on the EU's proposed constitution, and in a newspaper interview ahead of Tuesday's debate he called for the text to be renegotiated with a new "social treaty".

Strauss-Kahn, 57, who was finance minister from 1997 to 1999, strongly supported the constitution and also backs Turkish membership of the EU. Royal was for the constitution, but has brought into her team some of its most outspoken oppponents in the party.

Questions on the environment were likely to focus on a five-point manifesto published Tuesday by popular television presenter and ecologist Nicolas Hulot, calling for a new carbon tax and an overhaul of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

Polls continue to suggest that Royal is the only Socialist candidate who can beat the likely right-wing contender Nicolas Sarkozy, 51, at April's election.

However there remains considerable uncertainty over the division of opinion among the 200,000 card-carrying Socialist Party members who will be casting their votes on November 16.

Under party rules if Royal fails to reach 50 percent of the vote, there will be a two-way run-off a week later with the leading rival — Strauss-Kahn or Fabius — whose results will be hard to predict.

Royal's opponents were heartened when she was booed during a non-televised debate before party-members in Paris 10 days ago. On Thursday the candidates meet for a final in camera debate in the southern city of Toulouse.

Meanwhile Royal's camp reacted with irritation to the announcement that former interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement is to run for the presidency as head of his Republican Citizens' Movement.

Chevènement won more than five percent of the first round vote in 2002, and his score was a key factor in the humiliation of Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin, beaten into third place by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Royals's spokesman Gilles Savary said Chevènement's decision to run again "revives the spectre of the sterile divisions that led to the left's electoral disaster on April 21, 2002."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article