Three Socialist contenders face off in televised 'debate'

17th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 17, 2006 (AFP) - The contenders for the opposition Socialist Party (PS) nomination in France's presidential election face off for the first of three televised debates Tuesday, with all eyes on how the frontrunner Ségolène Royal rises to the challenge.

PARIS, Oct 17, 2006 (AFP) - The contenders for the opposition Socialist Party (PS) nomination in France's presidential election face off for the first of three televised debates Tuesday, with all eyes on how the frontrunner Ségolène Royal rises to the challenge.

Royal, 53, who is by far the most popular candidate among PS supporters, will take part in a two-hour question and answer session from 8:35 pm (1835 GMT) alongside former prime minister Laurent Fabius, 60, and former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 57.

The debate, broadcast live from a studio in western Paris on a niche parliamentary television channel, will help influence opinion among 200,000 card-carrying party members who are to choose the PS's nominee at an internal vote on November 16.

The subject is to be "social and economic questions", with two further debates on October 24 and November 7 to be devoted to society and the environment and Europe and international affairs.

Royal has been criticised by her opponents for avoiding issues of political substance in her campaign for the nomination, and the face-to-face with two more experienced rivals could be a chance for her to show her hand on matters such as the 35-hour week, labour protection and globalisation.

However supporters of Fabius and Strauss-Kahn complained that the format of the debate will allow little scope for in-depth policy examination. The candidates will merely take turns to answer questions before an audience of around 40, and there will be no discussion between them.

PS First Secretary François Hollande — who in private life is also Royal's partner — defended the format, which is the product of long negotiations, saying, "This is not a confrontation, it is a democratic competition ... there are no enemies inside the party."

The winner of the PS nomination will be the main left-wing challenger at elections in April. Polls suggest that Royal is the only one of the three to have a chance of beating the likely right-wing contender, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom she is currently neck-and-neck.

Royal, who is the president of the Poitou-Charentes regional council and a former junior minister, has emerged from nowhere in less than a year to become a strong possibility for France's first ever woman president.

Commentators ascribed her popularity to a canny pre-campaign in which she has posed as an outsider — challenging the party establishment with unorthodox views on the 35-hour week and boot-camps for young delinquents, and praising Britain's Tony Blair.

Fabius, who served as prime minister under President Francois Mitterrand while only in his 30s, represents a left-wing option. Last year he backed the victorious "no" campaign in the referendum on the European Union's proposed constitution, and he poses today as the champion of the poor.

Strauss-Kahn, who oversaw a wave of privatisations in the late 1990s, is seen as a competent ideas-man with an appeal to voters of the centre-left.  

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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