Segolene says French ready for reform, 'new ideas'

17th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 17, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal's ambition to become France's first woman president leapt forward Friday after her opposition Socialist Party overwhelmingly endorsed her as its candidate in elections next April.

PARIS, Nov 17, 2006 (AFP) - Ségolène Royal's ambition to become France's first woman president leapt forward Friday after her opposition Socialist Party overwhelmingly endorsed her as its candidate in elections next April.

Royal, 53, vowed to take France in a new direction after more than a decade of being led by conservative President Jacques Chirac, following an overnight party primary in which she won 60.6 percent of the votes.

"Don't be afraid of new ideas. The French are ready for reforms, but they are not willing to see the burden always weighing on the same people," she said in a victory speech in Melle, in her home region in western France.

She added that she was aware of her "immense responsibility to not disappoint all those who have hope" as she headed towards the presidential election.

"I don't feel any personal glory, just an immense responsibility and a great duty," she said in the town of Melle, in her electorate in western France, hours after being declared the winner of her party's primary against two rivals.

Royal is almost certain to contest that election against the probable conservative candidate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

The two are neck-and-neck in polls, but Sarkozy, 51, has not yet formally declared his bid because Chirac, 73, has refused to say whether he will seek a third term, though that is considered unlikely.

Royal beat off two male rivals to win her party's candidacy. The two, former economy minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former prime minister Laurent Fabius, received 20.8 and 18.5 percent respectively from the 200,000 card-carrying party members who cast ballots.

Socialist Party leader François Hollande — who is also Royal's domestic partner and father to her four children — said "all the Socialists won" with the ballot.

He had organised a series of debates, some televised, in the lead-up to the primary ballot — an unprecedented move in France — in which Royal and her rivals set out their policy visions.

Royal, a telegenic career politician who has carefully built an image as a party outsider infused with fresh ideas, did not move beyond the abstract in the debates, leaving many to wonder where she stood exactly on many foreign and domestic issues.

Her few public positions have included keeping Turkey out of the European Union, maintaining defence spending, protecting French companies and workers from free-market forces, creating "popular juries" to monitor politicians, and putting delinquents in boot-camps.

Although detractors in the Socialist Party previously accused her of being a lightweight populist with authoritarian tendencies, on Friday all members rallied around her, including her defeated rivals.

Strauss-Kahn told RTL radio: "She won, and she won well. Everybody is behind her... The Socialists have one candidate and we have to win against the right."

Fabius said he would support Royal and wished her luck in the upcoming election. "The party members have decided. I salute Ségolène Royal and congratulate her on her success," he told reporters.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who had strongly opposed Royal in the party, said the result of the primary gave her legitimacy.

"Today for the first time a woman can become president of the republic, which is in itself a major and progressive event," he said.

The pressure from Royal's ascent was being felt in the ruling conservative UMP party, where a Sarkozy ally, Regional Development Minister Christian Estrosi, said: "The presidential campaign is now launched. It's high time we united and led the UMP's candidate to victory."

He said Sarkozy "is our natural candidate" and warned against dissension in the party ranks.

Sarkozy's political advisor, Patrick Devedjian, said the Socialist support for Royal showed "a general slide to the right for French society," but he predicted that some on the left would find her unpalatable.

Roger Karoutchi, a regional UMP leader for the Paris area, said Royal posed "a danger" to the conservatives "because she has no clear lines which we can attack and debate — but that's also her weakness."

France's presidential election will take place in two rounds, on April 22 and May 6.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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