UMP braced for black Sunday
PARIS, March 24 (AFP) - The ruling party of French President Jacques Chirac appears headed for defeat in weekend regional elections after polls released Wednesday showed a wave of voter dissatisfaction half-way through his conservative government's term.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose job security is widely seen as depending on the outcome of Sunday’s elections, made no comment to media as he left a cabinet meeting.
Other ministers said the atmosphere in the meeting had been “studious” and that discussion of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement’s poor showing in the first round of the elections last weekend was avoided.
“Right now, we’re heading back out on the field,” Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour said.
The opinion surveys released by the CSA institute suggested the left-wing opposition would easily win four key regions of the 22 in metropolitan France – including the key prize of the greater Paris area.
Such a result would be seen as an admonition for the government, whose public support has slipped under the weight of a sluggish economy, high unemployment and general unease over the perceived advance of Islamic radicalism.
A series of state sector protests – by teachers, doctors, lawyers, performing artists and most recently scientific researchers – and the prospect of imminent cuts to the cherished pension system have helped pushed much of the electorate against the government, to the benefit of the opposition Socialist Party.
In last Sunday’s elections the Socialists and their Green and Communist allies emerged from a crowded field to claim 40 percent of the ballots, six points more than the UMP.
Chirac’s party also saw its strength sapped by the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, which claimed 16 percent – enough for it to be the third force in 17 regions in the knockout round.
Both the Socialists and the UMP spent the two days after the first-round vote patching together alliances where they could to consolidate their chances in the final polling.
“The dynamic created by this should confirm and amplify the results of the first round,” said the Socialists’ party secretary, Bruno Le Roux.
Newspapers on Wednesday speculated over what would happen if the predictions of UMP defeat are realised, particularly in terms of the changes Chirac might make to his government.
Many focused on Nicolas Sarkozy, the popular interior minister who has made no secret of his ambition to replace Chirac as president, and on the possibility of his being tapped to take over as prime minister.
The left-wing daily Liberation said Chirac would hold off making a decision until after European elections set for June 13 in France.
But, it said, time was running out, “because the president has arrived at an age which forces his camp to think about a future without him.”
However, the 71-year-old Chirac is considered likely to run for re-election in 2007 to avoid corruption allegations he has thus far ducked by claiming presidential immunity.
A satirical newspaper dedicated to French politics, Le Canard Enchaine, ran a cartoon showing Chirac’s wife telling the president not to worry too much about the elections, because “a vote’s sanction doesn’t stop you living, whereas the sanction of a judge. …”
Le Figaro, a right-leaning daily sympathetic to the government, opined that it was evident “that the government has committed errors” in administering its policies but that the economic reforms begun had to be pursued, and even extended, regardless of the electoral cost.
“Reform, as was proven last Sunday, is no guarantee of electoral success. But inertia is a sign of sure-fire failure,” it said.
Subject: France news