The 'Segolene factor' starting to take hold

16th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 15, 2006 (AFP) - After shining in the opinion polls since the start of the year, French Socialist Ségolène Royal is pulling in the endorsements and is now firmly ensconced as the left-wing favourite for next year's presidential election.

PARIS, March 15, 2006 (AFP) - After shining in the opinion polls since the start of the year, French Socialist Ségolène Royal is pulling in the endorsements and is now firmly ensconced as the left-wing favourite for next year's presidential election.

As potential candidates on the right lose points — largely thanks to the wave of protests over Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's contested youth jobs contract — Royal's popularity ratings remain strong, with some 60 percent of the public saying they could vote for her.

The so-called 'Segolene factor' has become a feature of the political scene.

Last Sunday when Privas — a small town in the south of France — swung to the left for the first time in a century in a local election, it was Royal's decision to canvas there on behalf of the Socialist Party (PS) candidate that was deemed to have tipped the balance.

A clear sign of the 52 year-old's establishment as a serious contender for next year's presidential vote is the growing number of well-known figures who have come out in her support.

The most symbolic of these is Jacques Attali, an adviser to the late president François Mitterrand during his 1981 campaign victory. Attali has said he is "at her disposal".

Also backing Royal is Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Green Euro-deputy and leader of the May 1968 student movement, who says he likes her because she "shows up traditional French politicians as the old-fashioned creatures they are".

Royal's electoral machine is slowly being put into place, with an Internet site called 'Desires for the Future' run from her office in the National Assembly. Some 30,000 Internet users have signed on there, and several blogs are also singing her praises.

Elegant and smiling, Royal is everywhere these days: in the morning on the television or radio, in the afternoon in the provinces to meet party workers, the next day travelling abroad to Chile, Italy or Austria.

And everywhere she is followed now by journalists — as many in fact as trail the man who could be her main rival next year: Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

President of the western Poitou-Charentes region and a former minister, mother of four children and partner of the Socialist Party's First Secretary François Hollande, Royal still has a major challenge on her hands to bring round the powers-that-be inside her own party.

"No-one here would have bet on her six months ago," one senior PS member said on condition of anonymity. "But the idea of Ségolène being candidate is no longer a joking matter."

For political scientist Dominique Reynie, Royal "embodies a need for renewal on the left. She is not a flash in the pan, but mind you her real test is only just beginning."

Inside her party, Royal must face up against heavyweights like former ministers Laurent Fabius, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Jack Lang — all of whom are determined to stay in the race for the PS candidacy.

All three are crisscrossing the country as part of a party membership drive ahead of an internal vote in November or December to determine the PS's choice.

While the misogynist remarks initially made about Royal's candidacy have all but disappeared, her rivals accuse her above all of having no structured project.

Royal stirred passions when she told a British newspaper recently of her admiration for Tony Blair - a man held in contempt by much of the French left — though she later told the communist daily L'Humanité of her unflagging attachment to "the achievements of the left."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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