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French press senses ‘end of Chirac-ism’

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) – President Jacques Chirac has been weakened after the defeat of his centre-right in regional polls, but replacing Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin could be politically dangerous, the French press said Monday.

“The end of Chirac-ism,” the left-leaning Liberation entitled its commentary.

“The emperor has no clothes: Jacques Chirac has been summarily defeated, without extenuating circumstances. He is a man whose electorate, after 30 years, has figured out all his moves,” the paper said.

In its editorial piece, the conservative newspaper Le Figaro said of the huge election victory by the opposition Socialists (PS) and its allies: “In a magnification of the first round, a pink wave has swept across the country.”

Chirac’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and its junior coalition partner, the Union for French Democracy (UDF), were almost wiped from the regional map in Sunday’s second-round vote, as the PS took control of 20 out of 22 regional assemblies in metropolitan France.

The electorate on the right was split, with the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen – competing in 17 metropolitan regions – earning 12.5 percent of the national vote.

“While the majority in the country remains on the right, the UMP and the UDF have lost on all fronts,” Le Figaro said.

But Liberation warned that the victory by the French left was more the result of a protest vote against the government than any true attachment to the party’s ideas, which it said had yet to be fully formulated.

The Socialist gains “could encourage a growing fringe of the party to take an exaggerated line in opposition, instead of working towards a reformist body of doctrine in phase with the new age of social-democracy,” it warned.

Speculation swirled around the fate of Raffarin, with the popular daily Le Parisien blazing “What is he going to do?” across its front page next to a photo of a contemplative Chirac.

A shake-up of the two year-old government with Raffarin staying on as prime minister through the summer was considered the most likely option before Sunday, but the scale of the rout tilted the odds against him.

However, Le Figaro said Chirac was still minded to keep Raffarin on, so that he can continue to draw public flak at European elections in June and through controversial reforms to the social security system, employment law and state-owned energy concerns.

The president is also reluctant to move Raffarin because the man most likely to replace him – Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy – is also Chirac’s clear rival for leadership of the center-right, Le Figaro said.

“With Sarkozy the right would stay in power, but for Jacques Chirac the problems would begin,” it said.

Liberation said Sarkozy had become “a key player for the head of state in order to reinvent the face of the government,” but noted that if the popular interior minister were to replace Raffarin, “the Chirac era ends tomorrow.”

For its part, Le Figaro said in an analysis piece: “Nothing is forcing the head of state to part ways with an unpopular, disavowed prime minister.

“But the pressure is strong. The interior minister is at the ready.”


                                        Subject: French news