Socialists' Royal opens throttle on campaign

20th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 19, 2006 (AFP) - France's leading left-wing candidate for presidential elections due next April, Ségolène Royal, is opening wide the throttle on her campaign after winning the support of her Socialist Party and a large proportion of voters.

PARIS, Nov 19, 2006 (AFP) - France's leading left-wing candidate for presidential elections due next April, Ségolène Royal, is opening wide the throttle on her campaign after winning the support of her Socialist Party and a large proportion of voters.

Following a party primary last week which saw her easily awarded the Socialist candidacy over two rivals, Royal's supporters believe she is on track to become France's first woman president.

The 53-year-old ever-smiling, smartly-dressed politician spent the weekend celebrating her win — and planning her next moves as she positions herself against her likely opponent on the right: the equally popular interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

"Things have to be articulated, the hierarchy needs reconfiguring, we need to go from being a small campaign shop with only a few workers to a much bigger level," one of Royal's spokesmen, Gilles Savary, said.

The Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, citing Royal aides, said that while she was preparing for a party meeting Tuesday that will officially appoint her its candidate, she was also ramping up her presidential campaign.

Regional Socialist heavyweights were to be asked to contribute in coming days, trips to South Africa and Brazil were being organised, premises for the campaign headquarters were being sought, and party mandarins were being incorporated into her already well-oiled machine, it said.

The newspaper also ran a poll showing that the main reason Royal appeals so strongly to French voters is because she is a woman.

That is a quality the dimunitive but forceful Sarkozy, 51, cannot compete with.

But he has already said he is looking forward to debating with Royal, apparently convinced — as are even some on the left — that the Socialist candidate is long on style but short on substance.

The initial problem Sarkozy faces, however, is that incumbent President Jacques Chirac, 73, has refused to confirm he will resign next year.

That uncertainty has dearly cost the conservative ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, which Sarkozy presides over, and handed the early advantage to the opposition Socialists and Royal.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin added to that uncertainty on Sunday when he insisted that France's ruling party had not yet decided on a presidential candidate.

"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.

Royal, a one-time protege of late Socialist president François Mitterrand, has given little away of her policies.

In the lead-up to the primary last Thursday, notably during a series of debates, she shone with telegenic confidence but was evasive on key questions.

She did say she intended to protect French companies and workers from globalisation, maintain defence spending, create "popular juries" to monitor politicians, and put delinquents in boot-camps. But on other matters, she has kept the rhetoric abstract and reassuring.

Her vagueness has brought criticisms that she was cobbling together populist ideas as a platform — but in the larger electorate that does not seem to have hindered her rise.

In her triumphant speech after the primary, she borrowed from both Mao and John F. Kennedy, calling on the French to "climb the mountain to victory" and to ask "what they can do for their country".

Her beaming image and enthusiastic public support has engendered unease on the right.

Even Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right French ultranationalist who made a surprising showing in the last presidential election in 2002 before being soundly trounced by Chirac, has been acid in his appraisal.

On Sunday, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera ran an interview with him in which Le Pen dismissed her.

"As a politician, Ségolène has no substance. But as a marketing trick, she's perfect," he said.

"She dresses well. But she has an execrable character. I prefer women to be soft and gentle," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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