Thursday, November 30, 2006

Le Pen on vacation

While Segolene Royal tours the Middle East and Nicolas Sarkozy courts French voters, far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen will be doing something quite different: he is flying to the Carribean for a 2-week vacation. Here are some quotes from the article:
"I'm like Zorro," Le Pen said in an interview at National Front headquarters this week. "You rarely see him, but you know he's there."

Unlike Zorro, Le Pen is 78 years old and a little hard of hearing. This will be his sixth presidential run, though he still has to gather the 500 signatures from elected officials needed for a place on the ballot.

But his fiercely nationalistic message, peppered with anti-immigration slogans and references to sleaze in the governing elite, still resonates with a French electorate that is fearful of globalization and ever more disillusioned with the country's leadership class.
Today, all the reasons that led to a second round with Le Pen in 2002 are still there," François Chérèque, head of the CFDT, France's biggest labor union, warned at a labor congress this month. Alain Gest, a center-right lawmaker, said that people in his constituency in northern France were no longer embarrassed to admit voting for Le Pen. Maxime Gremetz, a Communist lawmaker, complained that Le Pen "does not even have to make any noise to reap votes."

At the Villages des Fêtes, a bar in a working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris, patrons readily admit they like Le Pen.

"We've tried the left, we've tried the right - it's all the same," said a taxi driver, who identified himself only as Sylvain. He used to vote center-right, he said, but switched in 2002. "I will vote for Le Pen again next year because he talks about issues others don't dare to talk about."

Frankly many French voters are unhappy, for both major candidates are promoting themselves as agents of change and reform. The difference is that those unhappy on the left are rallying around Ms. Royal, while those on the right have a choice between him and Sarkozy. And although Sarkozy does not fit the standard French political mold by any means, he has still been part of the ruling establishment.

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Sarkozy to have company

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy will most likely be challenged by Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie for the UMP nomination, at least according to Le Figaro. The article hinted that they had already decided upon conducting a "loyal debate", which has lead some commentators to speculate that she will just be a "sparring partner". But if Segolene Royal's victory proved anything, it is that a vigorous primary does not necessarily leave any lasting damage. Questions still linger around a possible Villepin run, but frankly he would not stand a chance, for his improved poll numbers still show him very unpopular in France.

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Royal in Beirut

Today Segolene Royal arrived in Beirut and was greeted first by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (on right in the picture I shamelessly stole). She will be making the rounds today and continue on to Israel this weekend. This gives her an escape from the current crisis in France over the killing of a rioting soccer (football) fan earlier this week, an ordeal in which rival candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is currently bogged. Her visit is also in stark contrast to another guest in the Middle East tonight, US President George W. Bush, who is trying desperately to salvage a failed situation in Iraq.

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Royal visit to Middle East

Today French Socialist Segolene Royal will begin a several day visit to the Middle East. Her first stop will be in Lebanon, where she will be meeting with the family of recently assassinated politician Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese Prime Minister and parliament speaker, and with French troops participating in the UNIFIL mission. After that she is expected to go to Israel on Sunday, meeting with both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Royal will also visit the Palestinian territories before returning to France around Tuesday of next week.

Her trip will be fulfilling three basic political needs. To start, the Achilles heal of her campaign has been her lack of foreign experience, and this trip will attempt to at least blunt that charge. Secondly, she has faced criticism from Jewish groups at home for not showing much interest in Israel, and meeting with the leaders of Israel is a step in the right direction. Finally, the trip will garner a great deal of media coverage, undercutting Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy just as he begins his official run for presidency.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Americanization of French politics

Although the French love to smear McAmerica and vica versa, this presidential election season has demonstrated just how far French politics and society have moved closer to their American counterparts.

1. Two Candidates In America a multitude of candidates run for president, but almost nobody knows any of them. The only two given the attention, press, and frenzied media speculation are the Republican and Democratic nominees. Unlike in past French elections where different political blocs have split amongst a host of candidates, the right and the left of France have coalesced around Sarkozy and Royal respectively.

2. Value votes What has stood out in Segolene Royal's meteoric rise to the top of French politics has been her style more than her substance. She has appealed to people on an individual level, focusing on warm and fuzzy issues like family, the environment, etc. Sarkozy has represented the more traditional bread and butter politician focused on action and results. This balance has been the highlight of American politics in many past presidential elections, with candidates showing off their ideas while also "connecting" with the voters by acting like Joe-somebody. They attend church services, serve pancakes, and go hunting.

3. A Crossroads It seems like every American presidential election is the most important in our lifetimes,..., until the next one comes around. Likewise, both French candidates have defined themselves as reform-leaders at a critical time in French history, a time where a "rupture" with the past is needed to solve the problems of tomorrow.

If all this sounds a bit more like show-business, it is. Politicians have learned that winning is no longer about the best ideas or the best record, but about telling a compelling enough story to win votes. And frankly, if it takes a more photogenic and modern person to effectively lead a country than an old time idea-laden politician, that wouldn't be all that bad. At least there is always something to talk about.

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Will Chirac run?

It could not have been a worse time for Nicolas Sarkozy. On the day he announced his intent to run for the presidency, new polls show that the percentage of voters who trust current President Jacques Chirac to fix France's problems has risen from 32% to 42%. Not only that, the trust in PM Dominique de Villepin jumped from 29% to 38%. Each of these politicians has hinted in recent weeks that they might run themselves, creating an awkward situation for Sarkozy and another hindrance in his bid to defeat Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

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Sarkozy announces candidacy

If all goes as expected, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy will announce his candidacy to become the UMP presidential candidate. In doing so he will likely attempt to steal some of the media coverage that has centered on Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal since her strong victory in the Socialist primary. In the US candidates campaign for months if not years before their party's nomination, whereas Sarkozy will have just 1-2 months before he is likely chosen.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sarkozy tested by violence

French Interior Minister and likely presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a major test after a hard-core soccer fan was shot and killed by a black policeman. The fans had first directed their anger for losing the soccer match to a fan of the visiting Israeli team, but then attacked the policeman. During the attacks the crowd shouted racist and anti-semitic slurs. This is terrible news, and like all bad news, ends up affecting the political arena. Sarkozy needs to reassert his tough image without overreacting, but he will look ineffectual if nothing is done. He has already pushed through legislation to more easily break up racist fan groups and prevent certain individuals from coming to soccer games. If this causes more of a frenzy in France, it could work against Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, who is not seen as tough on security as Sarkozy.

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Middle Eastern politics haunt French candidates

It almost seems fitting that the Middle East, the birthplace of civilization and the great three monotheistic religions, and the center of such enduring conflict, should play such a big role in the politics of a far away country called France. And it certainly doesn't keep quiet about it. The Israeli paper Haaretz is running an article that says that much to the dismay of the French Jewish community, Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has for months ignored an invitation to appear before CRIF. CRIF is an umbrella organization for French Jewish groups, and has played host to countless French presidents, prime ministers, and candidates in the past.
"This is unprecedented," an Israeli diplomat who is serving in France admitted. "That's right," agreed CRIF director Chaim Musikant. "All the French leaders apart from Royal have already appeared before us. We have offered her whatever setting she would like, but to my regret, until now, we haven't heard from her."
On top of this, neither she nor her partner Francois Holland have ever visited Israel.

Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, is doing well amongst France's 1% of Jewish constituents:
Most of the Jews, or so it appears at this time, are likely to vote for the candidate of the right. "Sarkozy is the natural candidate of Jewish voters," Deputy Interior Minister Christian Estrozi told Haaretz.

There are several reasons for this: Sarkozy's Jewish roots, the fact that he is considered a friend of Israel and the fact that he appears to be the only politician in the French leadership who has evinced sensitivity to French Jewry's distress. He has gone to every place where Jews have been attacked, and at every opportunity, he has condemned and attacked and threatened and asserted that any harm to Jews is tantamount to harming the heart of the Republic. "He has honestly earned the Jewish vote," said a Jewish doctor this week, who revealed that for the first time in his life, he is planning to defect from the Socialist camp. "And it's not just me, but also most of my Jewish friends."

Perhaps to counter this negative trend, Royal has hinted that she will soon visit the Middle East, including Lebanon and Israel. Jewish dissatisfaction with the Socialist party is not unjustified; during the second intifada in Israel, a Jew in France was 44 times more likely to be the victim of an attack than either an African or Muslim. And all of this violence occurred under the Socialist government of Lionel Jospin.

For good or for ill, Jewish votes in the US and France are influenced by a candidate's views on Israel. In the US this has not been as big an issue, because US-Israeli relations have been quite solid since the 60's, and very warm since the Reagan years. France has been a different story. France, perhaps because of a certain sense of Holocaust guilt, or a desire to check the Arab powers in the Mid-East, was an early and strong supporter of the nascent Jewish state. This culminated in two pivotal events: the 1956 Suez war that effectively spelt the end for British and French colonialism, and the French assisted construction of the Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona, the birthplace of the Israeli nuclear weapons program. Yet over time France began to again court the Arab countries, and Israel, in search of a new protector, fell in bed with the United States. Over time French public opinion has steadily turned against Israel, especially with the two intifadas and Israel's rather brutal tactics in dealing with them.

Because Royal has not been outspoken about the Israeli cause nor showed much interest in it, many French Jews are obviously worried. They should remember, however, the strong statements she has made about the Iranian nuclear program, which in Israel is preoccupation #1. They should also wonder what kind of candidate would have a better chance of making peace in the Middle East: an Israeli supporter or an honest broker.

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Working Mom for President

Even if Segolene Royal loses the presidential election next year to her presumed rival Nicolas Sarkozy, she will have accomplished a great deal. She has raised four children out of wedlock during the course of a full time political career, beaten established candidates to win her party's nomination, and come within a hair of becoming the first female president of France. Her campaign has naturally brought up many issues concerning women who balance career and family obligations, and France is already ahead of many other countries in facilitating this:
French benefits start with maternity leave — a minimum 16 weeks, though mothers who give birth to twins get 34 weeks. France also has an 11-day paternity leave, thanks to a reform by Royal when she was family minister.

Childcare is affordable, and the excellent preschool system is free. A new law encourages women to have a third child, granting parents €750 (US$940) a month if they stay home for a year afterward. And the list goes on.

While much of the continent is in a panic about aging populations, France has the second-highest birth rate in the 25-nation European Union — 1.94 children born to the average woman. Only the Irish have slightly more, at 1.99.

France's system ensures that mothers here feel relatively little anxiety about going to work. About 81 percent of French women ages 25-49 are employed, the national statistics agency says. There is also little stigma about having babies outside of wedlock, with nearly half of French children born to unmarried parents. [rest of article]

Some foreigners love to talk about the cultural depravity of America, but in reality, we are pretty conservative on certain issues. A woman who had kids out of wedlock and then lived with her partner would have worse chances of being elected to public office than Le Pen, and that's probably overestimating. I hadn't realized that the percentage of working women in France was so high, because in many countries (think Italy), the lack of women in the workforce is the one of the causes (or at least one of the compliments) of some of the economic malaise.

Royal and Le Pen start moving

Recent poll numbers from after Segolene Royal's win in the Socialist primary show her winning the first voting round with 32%, compared with 29% Sarkozy. Far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who still might ot make the ballot if he doesn't gather enough signatures, showed a strong third place with 17%. This is definitely bad news for Sarkozy, who just several weeks ago was beating Royal 34% to 30% in the first round of voting. He will probably be even more anxious now than before to secure his party's support and move on with the campaign. I assume this could also mean that if another right-center candidate like Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie entered as an independent, Le Pen might squeak through again to the second round.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Fight a woman with a woman

Will it take another woman to beat French Socialist Segolene Royal? Some think so. Here are some excerpts from an article in the The Australian:
THE choice of a popular woman to represent the French Left in next year's presidential election is prompting centre-right backbenchers to ask the question: does it take a woman to beat one?
Enter Michele Alliot-Marie. Mr Chirac once described the Defence Minister as "the best pair of legs in the party" and he was not referring to the fact that "Mam" - as she is known, after her initials - is believed to be the only woman in politics who can take a rugby drop kick.

She also likes riding horses and skiing in the Alps, and the talk of Paris last week was whether a penchant for living dangerously could result in her running against Mr Sarkozy. Ms Alliot-Marie, 60, has said she will wait until the end of next month before announcing her decision. But she clearly believes that although she is behind in the polls, she has one important advantage over the Hungarian immigrant's son: her gender.
She has certainly got the military marching to her tune since she became Defence Minister in 2002, and is admired for the glamour she has brought to the role with her trouser suits and cashmere scarves. It also helps to have a sense of humour. Told by a pompous usher that it was illegal for women to wear trousers in parliament, she replied: "Shall I take them off then?"

She presents herself as a guardian of the mainstream Right's values against Mr Sarkozy's commitment to pro-market economic reforms.

These thoughts are only disturbing in that political commentators are mixing gender and personality. I doubt many people will vote for Segolene just because she is a woman and Sarkozy is a man. It really comes down to inherent differences in beliefs, behavior, and personality.

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Segolene can learn from Deval Patrick

I know this sounds repetitive, but there are so many good American political analogies for what's happening in France right now that it's hard to ignore them. This year the state of Massachusetts held an election for Governor (that's basically the leader of a state for any non-US readers out there). The Republican candidate, Kerry Healey, was in many ways the state's Sarkozy. As Lt. Governor, she had positioning herself for four years to succeed the current Governor, namely by standing next to the actual Governor during any press conferences. Much of her election campaign focused on fighting crime, and she used dark TV ads to promote the idea that her opponent, an African-American, was sympathetic to murderers and likely to release criminals. This opponent, Democratic candidate Deval Patrick, was in many way's the Segolene Royal of the race. Although he had worked in the Clinton Whitehouse, he was relatively unknown before the election campaign, and he promised a break from the partisan politics of the past. His whole message was about people "checking back" into politics, bringing people into the process who had left because of disinterest and disgust. In many ways it was a very populist campaign, and if anything was similar to Royal, it was that he was constantly open to new ideas from everyone he met, even his political rivals.

So who won? Kerry Healey's scare-tactics backfired tremendously, and although she strongly attacked Patrick in debate after debate, her poll numbers never rose above 30-something %. What did Deval Patrick do to ward off her viscious attacks? Nothing. In most every debate he would talk about his ideas, the ideas of others, and the future. Even when the rhetoric got the hottest, and he was being accused of trying to get an rapist and murderer out of prison, he stood by his message and above the petty political firestorm. By not engaging in such low tactics, his reputation as a new and fresh face was automatically raised in the public eye, and he won the election with 55.5% of the vote, beating Healey's 35% by a long margin. Sarkozy would do well not to follow the lead of Healey. As for Royal, optimism can win elections, just make sure you stay on message.

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Segolene can learn from George Bush

In 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush was running for president against then Vice President Al Gore. Although Al Gore was undoubtably the smarter of the two, both had elite upbringings. Gore had gone a top-tier private school in Washington DV and then Harvard where he roomed with actor Tommy Lee Jones; Bush went to an elite New England prep-school, Yale, and Harvard Business School. In their campaigns Gore struggled to appear relaxed, and caused a slight uproar when it was revealed that his advisors had told him to dress in "earth tones". Bush on the other hand was easily portrayed as the common man, speaking with a strong Southern accent in an unsophisticated manner.

One of the greatest moments in the campaign came in the middle of one of their televised debates. During the course of answering a question, Gore not only went after Bush verbally, but actually walked up to him like he was picking a fight. Bush looked at him momentarily in a "what the heck are you doing" fashion, turned around, smiled, and just continued speaking.

So what can Segolene Royal take from this instant? Just like Gore and Bush, she and Nicolas Sarkozy are both emerging from the elite establishment. One of them, Sarkozy, is seen as a statesman, while the other, Royal, is seen as a modern woman who is in touch with the French people. Because Royal has the political momentum, Sarkozy is going to be on the attack, criticizing her lack of ideas and inexperience in every speech, interview, and debate. The worst thing for Royal to do would be to act someone she is not (like Gore tried), get flustered and make stupid remarks (like the Iran shouldn't have a civilian nuclear program), or join the fray and attack Sarkozy (and look like any old politician). If she just smiled, turned around, and continued to speak her message, all Sarkozy's words would look like inappropriate attacks on a woman, and he would look like a know-it-all politician from the past.

If there is any epilogue to this story, it is that Bush ended up losing the popular vote and only winning on a Supreme Court decision, but it was still clear that he had won most of the debates because he allowed Gore to embarrass himself while he stayed on message and in act. Likewise, Royal can win against Sarkozy in person anytime and anyplace, but she must remember that it's only the final vote that counts.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Clear economic choice in French election

The International Herald Tribune is running an article that looks at the fairly large economic choice French voters will be making when they go to the polls next year.

For Nicolas Sarkozy:
The economy is a particularly thorny matter for Sarkozy, an advocate of the free market who is presenting himself as offering voters a new alternative despite the fact that he has served as a government minister under Chirac nearly without interruption since 2002...What jumps out most is a pledge by the Union for a Popular Movement to do away with France's two-tier system of work contracts and introduce a single contract with streamlined dismissal procedures. The aim is to end a split in the labor market between employees on generous open-ended work contracts that are costly to terminate and those on short-term contracts with little security.

The party also proposed abolishing the 35-hour workweek in all but name by offering to cut payroll taxes and social contributions on all extra time worked. The philosophy behind the program, says Emmanuelle Mignon, economic adviser at Sarkozy's party, is that you have to "work more to earn more."

For Segolene Royal:
The Socialists, in contrast, want to stimulate growth by increasing purchasing power. They propose raising France's monthly minimum wage to €1,500, or about $1,960, by 2012, an increase of about 20 percent from the current €1,245, and they say the state should guarantee a minimum pension level near the level of the minimum wage. Bolster buying power, the thinking goes, and people will jump-start growth by spending more, thus inciting companies to hire. The party also pledged to stimulate innovation by raising public spending on research.

As for the 35-hour week, which currently is not applied across the board, the Socialists want to abolish exemptions to give everyone access to the shorter hours - the opposite of what Sarkozy's camp is planning. They have also pledged to penalize companies that hire on short- term contracts, while rewarding those that do not. And they have vowed to renationalize Électricité de France.

The article continues, saying that because Royal has moved farther to the right on certain issues (i.e. boot camp for delinquents), she will have to adopt leftist economic policies in order to secure the far-left. Sarkozy will attempt to play up his pro-market beliefs, hoping that that will appeal to a French populace that is fed up with high unemployment and slow growth. At the end of the day Royal will probably stay straddling the middle, favoring things like a higher minimum wage while also toying with slightly less labor restrictions. After all, her strong primary win gave her a broad mandate to lead the Socialist party away from some of its worn-out traditions, and a pragmatic approach will win over a party platform.

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Sarkozy brings up immigration

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday in a speech to a Catholic organization in Paris that,
"I would like foreigners who come to France to make a commitment to learn French before they get a 10-year visa and this commitment should extend to their wives as well. There are too many (ethnic) communities in France where a foreigner arrives here, learns French, gets a visa, brings his family over under the reunification rules, keeps his wife shut inside and she doesn't learn French. There are a number of women who want to get divorced or separate from their husbands but can't do it because they think: "As the head of the family, my husband is the one who has the visa. If I don't have a visa, I won't be able to stay in France."
Coming on the same day that Socialist candidate Segolene Royal siad that integrating immigrants was crucial because they were the future of France, this adds a new twist to an old theme. Sarkozy is still proving to be "tough" in his stance towards foreigners, which he hopes will give him the votes of the French angry and concernced about the growing Muslim/immigrant population. What is really fascinating about this latest move is that Sarkozy's reasoning is based on protecting wives from their husbands. The topic of domestic abuse has been a highlight of Segolene Royal's campaign, and she has even vowed that her first law in office will aimed at fighting it. Sarkozy might have figured that he has already lost the entire minority vote, but he can still pick up a few Royal supporters concerned about this issue.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Royal stakes out immigration position

Socialist Presidential candidate Segolene Royal took a strong pro-immigrant stand this Saturday. In a speech in Bondy, a suburb of Paris, Royal told an audience from some of the poorer immigrant districts that
France not only needs you, but it is you who are the future of France...
[Integration is] a question of survival, It is the main condition for reviving the economic machine.
She followed these statements with a proposal to subsidize small business ventures begun by youth in poorer areas with anywhere from US$2600 to $13,000.

This won't cure the sluggish French economy, but it is certainly a good idea to speed up immigrant integration through economic means. Sarkozy has probably already lost most immigrant votes for his tough policies, so Royal's approach is probably designed to appeal not just to immigrants, but to the more centrist French who are worried about preserving and protecting French culture from a foreign-born and minority population that has not integrated well. Start-up subsidies are a start, but Royal really needs to lay down a clear position on labor reform to see where she really stands economically.

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Segolene can melt an audience, can Sarkozy?

An article from an independent news site in New Zealand has the standard profile of Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, but included is a little story that says a lot about her campaign style and that of Sarkozy:
Particularly revealing is the first time Royal came into the media spotlight. Back in 1992, the then Minister of the Environment attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. When her turn came to take the podium, the Minister abandoned her prepared speech. Eight months pregnant, Royal instead placed her hand on her stomach and gave a moving address on childhood, vigorously applauded by Fidel Castro, amongst others. Shortly after, back in France, Royal gave birth to her daughter, Flora. An hour later Royal was filmed with her baby for the French news. Hollande, who evidently hadn’t been consulted, was disgusted.

I assume this story is true, but even if it isn't, it highlights the incredible difference in personality between Royal and her principal challanger Nicolas Sarkozy. Royal is at home in the public spotlight, and even if she wanted to avoid it, the spotlight is attracted to her. More importantly, her tactic of promoting her female qualities is not just a campaign ploy; it is a genuine aspect of her personality.

This continues to be bad news for Sarkozy. If polls are correct, he represents the authoritative statesman that many French are tired of. Instead of avoiding this reality, however, it looks like his campaign will work to accentuate this difference. They will try to portray Royal as a pretty face with no ideas and no ability, while he is to be seen as the smart and tough leader.

Both these strategies will work to some degree or another, but I believe that Royal will continue to have the advantage, even in some of Sarkozy's traditional strengths. Most French believe that Sarkozy would be better at international affairs, given Royal's lack of experience and recent slips-of-the-tongue. But we have to remember that Royal gave this 1992 speech in front of a huge foreign delegation, and was able to win them over with the same sense and caring that she has won over at least half of the French people. Who says she couldn't do the same when president?

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Le Pen strikes back

Despite a warning earlier this week that he did not yet have sufficient signatures to make it onto the ballot in the 2007 presidential election, new polls show that far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen would receive 17% of the vote in the first election round. This is even more than polls predicted last election, when he made it to the runoff against PM Jacques Chirac.

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Sarkozy aims at competition

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to force the hands of his UMP party rivals by encouraging the primary fight to begin. After a week of enduring internal snipes from PM Villepin and those close with President Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy is eager to win a strong mandate from his party in the January primary. He has also been keen to play up his reputation as a better international statesman than Socialist candidate Segolene Royal:
The next President of the Republic will have to deal with Iran, Lebanon, Israel - can that President keep saying to people 'I'm listening to you'. You can't spend five months of your campaign saying 'hey, I've got no ideas, give me some.

This is a smart tactical move for Sarkozy, because the sooner he can rid himself of his meddlesome colleagues, the sooner he will have the chance to whittle away at Royal's currently sparkling public image. How soon he is successful is a different story.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ségo no JFK

A lot has been said recently about the similarities between French Socialist Segolene Royal and former US President John F. Kennedy. But like many historical analogies, this is only superficially true. It is true that each candidate has stood out for their youth, glamour, and optimism, and Ms. Royal has been keen to play up that aspect in her campaign, even envoking some of JFK's immortal "Ask not" line in a recent speech: "Today I call on all French people, the men and women of our country, to unite, to mobilize, to ask yourselves what you can do for our country". Yet despite this rhetoric, there are frankly far too many fundamental differences for this analogy to hold.

1. Age and Experience. Although Segolene Royal appears youthful in comparison to some of her much older male counterparts, she will still be 10 years older than the 43-year-old President Kennedy if she is elected into office. During these 40-odd years before his presidency, Kennedy had become a World War II hero for saving the crew of his PT boat when it was rammed in the Pacific, was elected a Representative in Cogress, and later became a Senator. Royal had her first break as a minor staff member for the Socialist hero François Mitterrand. She then held several other government posts, worked in the Lionel Jospin government, and was elected president of the Poitou-Charentes two years ago. Although not unimpressive, she has had a relatively unremarkable government career, and was a relatively no-name politician until several years ago.

2. Foreign Policy. Kennedy never had a weak foreign policy, but during some of the darkest days of the Cold War he was incredibly open to US-Soviet dialogue and cooperation, and also mindful of strengthening the Western alliance. This was articulated best in his first and only inaugural speech:

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved

Royal, to some disappointment, has retreated back to the trite lines that describe a world where a strong France "balances" the US, and she has called Britain to either join Europe or the Americans. This continues the foriegn policy hypocrisy that the French have recently perpetrated, that is, pushing for a stronger EU to stand up to the US, and then rejecting the EU constitution. She doesn't realize that a strong EU would not only be good for France but good for the US, which needs a strong partner in today's more uncertain world. Her rhetoric on Iran has been even worse; instead of promising to begin negotiations with renewed vigor and acting as an honest broker in the region, she has said that Iran should not even posses a civilian nuclear program. This completely unnuanced position really underminds any diplomatic credibility she had.

3. Responsibility of Elected Officials. One of Royal's boldest ideas has been the creation of "citizen juries" that would judge or assess politicians between election cycles. Supposedly this would encourage them to act more in line with their constituents desires and keep them to their campaign promises. Although Kennedy obviously believed in representing his constituents to the best of his ability, his prize-winning book Profiles In Courage celebrated the noble risks that US senators have taken for the greater good, even if it meant they were to be derided as cowards or traitors in their home districts. He recognized that representative democracy gives people the right to choose their government, but also gives true leaders the opportunity to lead where and when it might not be so popular to do so. One wonders if Royal could stomach the tough economic reforms France needs if she had a citizen jury constantly looking over her shoulder. And by the way, these juries already exist, they are called polls.

None of this means that Segolene Royal would be a bad president, she is in a very different time and place than 1960's America, and she might be just the kind of optimistic leader with the right qualities that France needs at this period in history. But to quote the famous words of US Senator Lloyd Bentsen, "I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy".

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chirac scolded for infighting

Apparently MP's from France's ruling UMP party have told President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to "cease and desist" in their public attempts to undercut Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who will most likely be the UMP candidate for the presidency. Chirac continues to hold a grudge against Sarkozy since Sarkozy supported one of Chirac's rivals, Édouard Balladur, in the 1995 presidential race. Villepin, on the other hand, has toyed with the idea of running himself, even if it means going it alone as an independent.

The backdrop to all of this political infighting is the simple fact that Sarkozy already has 71% of his party's support, while Chirac and Villepin's numbers are almost pathetically low. I guess the party finally realized that this election really is about winning, and they'll have no chance at all unless they can unite around a single nominee.

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Will Le Pen miss the first round?

For a French candidate to run for president he or she must first get the signatures of 500 elected officials. Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far-right National Front candidate who surprised many by making it to the second round of voting in the 2002 presidential election, has revealed that he is still short on the required number of signatures. His subsequent request that the signatures be kept secret, a move that would likely increase his number of supporters, has been dismissed by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Even if he makes it onto the ballot, Le Pen will likely play a marginal role in the 2007 election. In 2002 the left split the vote amongst several candidates, paving the way for his upset in the first round. This season the left has more or less coalesced around Socialist Segolene Royal and UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is polling strong in hypothetical first-round votes, so Le Pen will have little chance, barring a major fracture on either side of the spectrum.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mother Royal, Father Sarkozy

L'Express magazine released the results of a survey showing that 42% of the French population believes Socialist Segolene Royal would make a better president than UMP rival Nicolas Sarkozy, who received 36% support. Royal is also judged as more modern, more modern, and much nicer. Nevertheless, Sarkozy scored higher as most authoritative by a long shot (71% to 20%), more capable in an international crisis (58% to 26%), more competent (48% to 34%), more statesman like (44% to 38%), and a better international representative of France (46% to 39%).

So why is Royal chosen as the better president? Obviously this is only one survey, but it is interesting to see the mindset of French voters. They are not only attracted to Royal for all the soft and fuzzy personality indicators, but then believe those factors are more important for presidential success than the traditional statesmanship that Sarkozy represents. The French seem to think that a caring mother would rule better than a controlling father.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Chirac and Villepin make life difficult for Sarkozy

New polls from earlier this month show that public approval of French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has either held steady or risen slightly since September. Chirac's favorability rating is now at 45% and his approval is 38%. On the question "What is your opinion of prime minister Dominique de Villepin?", Villepin jumped to 37% Good, an 11 point increase since June. While these certainly aren't rosy numbers, they do make it more difficult for Sarkozy to get a united UMP behind him in the run-up to the election. Chirac and Villepin still haven't ruled out running for their party's nomination, although this may just be anti-Sarkozy posturing.

Whatever the case may be, Sarkozy's biggest challenge will be getting the full support of his party. He is running 50-50 with Socialist candidate Segolene Royal in a hypothetical matchup, so he will need every vote he can squeeze from the right in the general election. And as some of Royal's ideas stretch into the conservative realm, he will need to make sure that he doesn't alienate those precious votes in the center.

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Royal picks up Iranian support

Among the more curious congratulations received by Socialist candidate Segolene Royal since her primary victory has been from Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of a group calling itself the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The group is basically an umbrella organization for all the many anti-Islamic Republic of Iran factions, and works as a parliament in exile. Obviously they liked Royal's tough language on Iran, although she was criticized in the Socialist debates for it.

I think the more interesting thing to look out for if Royal is elected in 2007 is how her tough line on Iran affects French relations with Israel. France used to be a big supporter of Israel, and even helped them develop their nuclear program at Dimona in the late 1950's, but eventually France came to adopt an almost hostile tone, the exact opposite of how US-Israeli relations evolved. If, and that's a big if, she turned around French-Israeli relations, I think US-French relations would improve greatly in regards with the many Palestine and Middle East issues.

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Will Britain bite the dust?

The Telegraph has a new article based on an interview with Segolene Royal's foreign affairs advisor. According to him, she will advocate a strong new EU treaty despite the French rejection of the last one. Royal is also willing to sign accords with just a core of EU members, ignoring the newer members and "Atlanticist" members like Britiain:
He set out a vision of an ambitious new EU treaty, replacing the EU constitution which has been in limbo since French and Dutch voters voted against it last summer.

Britain would be asked to sign up to the new treaty, but if it rejected calls for increased protectionism, an EU foreign minister, convergence on tax rates and moves to create a European army, then France and her allies would agree a treaty among themselves, he said...

Although Miss Royal "does not want a two-speed Europe," Mr Savary said, he admitted her plans could lead to a "quartet" of nations leading the way, with others scrambling to catch up. He complained that Britain currently led an "ultra-Atlanticist" bloc within the EU....

He demanded efforts to integrate foreign policy and cast that struggle in searingly anti-American tones. Mr Savary said: "The question that needs to be asked is – do we want to be vassals of the United States, do we want to be a 51st state?"

Miss Royal's vision was for a new treaty that would address citizens' demands for more protectionism in the face of competition from globalisation. "She believes, like all the French, that Europe should be more protective and should defend itself better," Mr Savary said.

What is so ironic about this is that the French are constantly promoting European integration in order to "balance" American power, but the US would like nothing more than to see a strong EU. Diplomats in Washington would far rather deal with one strong Western partner than a multitude of squabbling nations who each want to have their own say. Not that France is a squabbling nation, but it does help to speak with one voice, especially at the negotiating table.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Should Blair back Royal

The Guardian columnist Martic Kettle wrote an insightful comment last Saturday on the American and British views of the French presidential election. He basically concludes that the Brits have a knee-jerk reaction to support UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy because he is aligned more closely with US views on the world and capitalism, when they should actually be lining up to support the centre-left of French politics. Here are some quotes:
It is vital to see all this in a bigger context. If there is one big thing that could revitalise Europe in the balanced and moderate way that Britain temperamentally espouses, that thing is a change of direction in France. Without such a change, very little is possible. With it, much could happen. There is a respectable historical case, bolstered by too many of the Chirac government's international actions, for saying that nothing will ever really change much in France. Yet next year's election will nevertheless come down to a choice between two menus for change. On the right, Sarkozy's neo-Thatcherite cocktail of tax cuts, big-bang institutional upheavals and tough law-and-order, directed at immigrants in particular. On the left, Royal's neo-Blairite concoction of economic flexibility, cultural liberalism and reducing social exclusion.

Nothing better illustrates how Labour's failure to understand the Bush administration has perverted its view of Europe and minimised its once hoped-for influence there. In election after European election, Labour has made pro-Americanism and zest for economic liberalism the sole yardsticks of where British interests lie. They have been for Aznar against Zapatero in Spain, Merkel against Schröder in Germany, Berlusconi rather than Prodi in Italy - and now Sarkozy rather than Royal in France....But when the party of the left has begun to embrace modernisation and the right is led by a scoundrel, as has happened in Italy and France, Labour's moderate social-democratic interests, and Britain's interests in Europe, should lie decisively on the side of the centre-left party.

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Polls show race close as ever

New polls from the Angus Reid Global Monitor show Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal polling as close as ever. Assuming no rouge UMP candidates run against Sarkozy in the first round, Sarkozy would win with 34%, followed by Royal with 30% and Le Pen with 10%. This is a two point increase for Royal since October. The second round would then be the much vaunted Sarkozy-Royal matchup, and in both October and now November, each would receive 50% of the vote. Although the French and Americans like to exentuate their differences, it is ironic that both countries are so evenly split between a right and left candidate. Then again, comparatively speaking, Sarkozy is moderate Democrat and Royal is Barbara Boxer.

This poll was conducted by Ipsos/ Le Point before Royal's Socialist party victory, so we'll have to wait and see how much if anything extra her winning margin will give her in the first two runoffs.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

More hints from Chirac

In the background to Segolene Royal's victory this past week in which she promised a new era in French politics, 73 year-old President Jacques Chirac seems poised to possibly attempt another presidential run himself. Despite low approval numbers and several recent failures (read EU constitution rejection), his wife and a political advisor continue to drop hints that he may consider another election.
Although Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is the only other politician polling neck and neck against Socialist Segolene Royal in hypothetical match ups, he will first have to face PM Dominique de Villepin, Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, and now potentially his current boss. This could result in a repeat of Royal's recent fight, with the UMP eventually uniting around a single candidate. However, Alliot-Marie has said that she might run outside the UMP, splitting Sarkozy's vote and possibly taking him out of contention in a runoff. In a French presidential election, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the first round of voting, the top two candidates then face off in a second round. Somewhat oddly, this can allow for unknown or darkhorse candidates to reach the second round if the other major parties split their vote. Last election, Jean-Marie Le Pen, described as a little Nazi by a French teacher I know, made it to the second runoff against Chirac, despite his far right views. Frankly I hope Sarkozy doesn't get battered in the first round; he's been planning for this election for ages, and even the mainstream American press did an indepth profile of him as a candidate: the year of that profile, 2004.

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Sarkozy-Royal debate?

According to CNN, immediately after Segolene Royal won her party's nomination, Interior Minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy called her to offer his congratulations and to challenge her to a debate. When asked about a debate later on, Sarkozy responded by saying that he was delighted "at the prospect of this debate... about modernity, a debate that goes to the heart of the matter...I'm delighted because she is someone of quality, and I'm sure after this debate the French will be well informed of the choice [before them]".

Despite the cheery attitude, Sarkozy must have been somewhat disappointed in Royal's landslide victory. Just a few days ago, a collegue of Sarkozy's said that "Sarkozy would prefer a thousand times over to face a leftist man" because "Men are used to a virile political combat and the clear femininity of Segolene Royal is disconcerting them." Royal's performance in the six debates with her Socialist rivals left something to be desired according to the press, although her victory margin clearly showed that their effects were moot.

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Royal accepts nomination

This is a translation of exerpts of Segolene Royal's acceptance speech, delivered the day after her primary win. Translation courtesy of Bablefish:

We will climb the mountain until the victory so that France seizes all its chances, and makes progress for all, the respect for each one I thank the militants for the socialist party who came to vote in mass and who gave to all those and all those which want that that changes the force to believe in it. I do not draw from this result any personal glory but I measure the immense responsibility not to disappoint all those and those which hope. The presidential election goes to essence: the possibility for each one of choosing its destiny and of controlling it in turbulences of the world of today. Yes, France can take again the hand. Yes it can believe sufficiently in it, to join again with the best of its history, to project themselves again in the future to build a common destiny. [... ]

The world changed, France moved, then the policy must change. I want not only to incarnate this major change but to build it with all. The policy must leave the reality of the life of people, to be attentive with the lessons which the people give, to understand that the citizen is placed best to make the diagnosis of his life and for saying in the name of which values the left must act. France must give to each one the means of taking its existence in hands indeed. For this reason the personal freedoms call collective solidarity and guarantees to build. Let us not be afraid of the new ideas, draw them in the everyday life of the French people, in his sufferings, its difficulties but also in its talents and its formidable successes. [... ]

We will climb the mountain until the victory. Today it is one fine day to leave to the combat because we are carried by a generous and happy popular movement which feels that we are supported by a cause which is larger than us. I launch today a call with all the French, men and women of our country. You gather, mobilize you, ask you what you can do for our country, imagine together France which will have courage to face the changes without giving up its ideal of freedom, equality and fraternity. For an order right, against all the unjust disorders which strike weakest, for positive energies which gather and of new freedoms to invent. Let us put of movement for six months during which we will have to invest all our energy and all the fruit of our exchanges with the French, and I will continue as I have done for several months. With all the force of our socialist convictions to link all the left in its diversity then to gather a majority of French in the same desire with a future.

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Female political wave

The Financial Times just published an analysis of the feminisation of politics brought about these past two weeks with the victory of Ségolène Royal in the French Socialist primary and with Nancy Pelosi becoming the US Speaker of the House. Both politicians have played up their female characterisitcs with regard to family and female "caring", unlike past leaders like Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher. Here are some exerpts:
...the new generation is different. Ms Royal (now universally known as Ségolène) has deliberately played up her feminine qualities. She has campaigned as what Le Monde called a “mummy candidate”, introducing herself to audiences as the mother of a family of four and announcing that: “I want to do for the children of this country, what I was able to do for my own children.” In her book The Truth of a Woman, published in 1996, she argued that a world run by women might be a less violent place. At a time when many French people seem to be longing for change in a generalised sense – but are frightened by specific social and economic reforms – the very fact that Ms Royal is a woman offers the promise of novelty and a fresh start...

Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, is the first woman to hold the job and campaigned explicitly as a “mother and a grandmother” – making a point of saying that if her pregnant daughter went into labour in the final stages of the campaign, she would break off whatever she was doing and rush to the hospital...

Of course, women running for the highest offices in the land are always going to face questions that are simply not asked of men. Why – for example – have they chosen this most demanding of careers? Give the wrong answer and you risk antagonising someone. There are American women who have never forgiven Mrs Clinton for apparently scorning those who choose to “stay at home and bake cookies”.

But skilfully played, the question can be turned to advantage. Laurent Fabius, a Socialist rival, harmed himself far more than Ms Royal when he asked of her: “But who will look after the children?” Mr Fabius heatedly denied making the comment – but Ms Royal trumpeted it in her final campaign rallies...

A “woman’s touch” may appeal on social issues, and even in some diplomatic contexts – but are American and French voters ready to accept a feminine finger on the nuclear button? My guess is that the answer to that will be – why not?

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France - Royal's acceptance speech

Here is a babelfish translation of Segolene Royal's victory speech, delivered just after winning the French Socialist party candidacy for president:
"I would like simply to tell you all the happiness which I feel. I am very happy and I live this moment of happiness intensely. I measure the honor which is made to me today by all the militants who massively came to vote (...) They are giving me a dash and, that, I want to thank some for the bottom of the heart."

"the hour now will be with the gathering, I you will speak again about it tomorrow. What I want simply to do, it is to meditate and live this moment of happiness fully."

"I also measure that the fact of receiving this dash, to be selected in this way, it is something of extraordinary. I think that the French people wrote this history. It is the people which put themselves moving, they are the grass-roots militants who put themselves moving and which today give me this force, give me this dash."

"I would like to say to them that they will not be disappointed, that we will build something of extraordinary together, that France will write a new page of this history and that it is the French people which are writing this history."

"And, faithful to the values which are mine, from listening, attention, glance on reality such as it is, I will continue in the same way."

"I will remain myself for those which today trust me, because I know that around the socialist militants, there were full people who spoke to the socialist militants, who said: ' it is necessary to give him force, it is necessary to give him movement, it should be put in situation to approach the presidential election under best the conditions compared to the major aspiration of the country which wants than that change'."

"I want to incarnate this change, to give him credibility, to give him legitimacy and I believe that this evening this legitimacy is brought to me today and I thank for them for the bottom of the heart the socialist militants. Because tomorrow, I will have like tries to gather them all, including those which did not vote for me, I count on them."

"Each socialist militant will be useful in this difficult battle, each socialist militant must be at his station, if one wants around the Socialists to gather all the forces of left, a maximum of force of left as of the first turn of the elections."

"We have six months of work in front of us. These six months will be used in an intensive way, in a participative way. I go, with the socialist militants, to give the French people to the heart of the project of the Socialists to put it moving, to bring precise details, for saying as of today what we will do tomorrow if the French grant their confidence to me."

"This confidence, it is deserved. And today, I set out again of the base to go up the mountain and to climb this mountain with the socialist militants who bring their confidence to me, with all the French who want that that changes and we all together will climb this mountain until May 2007".

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France - Votes being counted in primary

Votes are continuing to be counted into the night in France after the Socialist party primary today, with a strong turnout reported at near 80%. According to Le Monde, the frontrunner Ségolène Royal leads polls in the North and in Paris. She spent the day at home in Melle. Unlike all-day elections in the US, the polls in France didn't open until 4 p.m., and stayed open until 10 p.m. It will be interesting to see the margin with which Royal will presumably win, because that could eventually affect the later 2007 election. A strong win of well over 50% will give her a clear mandate to continue her campaign as is, while a lower margin or even a forced runoff with the second place candidate will taint her high-flying image just as she enters the more difficult battle with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Edit: Segolene Royal was declared the winner with 55-60% of the vote after 11 p.m. French time. This margin of victory will ensure no runoff.

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France - Royal selection

Tomorrow night 218,771 Socialist party members will choose their candidate for the 2007 French presidential election. has captured the international spotlight with her strong leads in the polls and campaigning as an outsider fighting a male-dominated system. Her early lead has diminished somewhat after six debates against her two opponents, who have attempted to paint her as inexperienced and light on ideas. Yet polls show her still well ahead of her nearest rival, former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn. If she does not capture at least 50% of the votes tomorrow there will be a runoff, which could be difficult if her opponent is endorsed by the loser of the first round.

Throughout the campaign Royal has not always toed the party line, though she has certainly not called for the liberal reforms that Interior Minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has endorsed. She has questioned the sometimes sacred 35-hour work week, and recently enraged some of the many Socialist teachers by calling on them to work full days instead of private tutoring. Royal has also said that she believes Iran should not develop a civilian nuclear program, a stance stronger even than that of US President George Bush, and a comment which many seized on as symbolizing her lack of international experience. When asked whether Turkey should be allowed to join the EU, Royal has consistently avoided answering directly, saying the French people should decide. One of her most controversial ideas has been the notion of creating "citizen juries", which would regularly assess the work of politicians. Described by some as holding the elite accountable, the idea has also been mentioned in the same line as the Soviet Union. In spite of the bad press, a majority of French voters have expressed support of the idea.

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France - Third term for Chirac?

Both the wife and a former cabinet minister of French President Jacques Chirac have made hints in recent days that he may attempt to win a third term in office. If this were to occur it could harm Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in the first and possibly second round of voting, allowing presumed Socialist candidate Segolene Royal an easier election victory. Current polls show that she would lead Sarkozy by just two percentage points if the two were in a runoff.

France - Royal and the politics of gender

Reuters has an interesting analysis of how French Socialist Segolene Royal is using her gender as a political weapon against her opponents. Some quotes:
"The fact that Segolene Royal is a woman makes things difficult for us," said Nadine Morano, a parliamentarian close to conservative presidential favourite Nicolas Sarkozy...'Her appearance alone represents a break with the past because she is a woman and voters want to try something new"

"Sarkozy would prefer a thousand times over to face a leftist man ... Men are used to a virile political combat and the clear femininity of Segolene Royal is disconcerting them."

"Segolene is great at assuming the position of a self-styled victim, and (her opponents), paralysed at the idea of appearing sexist, have allowed her to take the lead."

France - Royal Support Stays Strong

Despite the recent video of Segolene Royal criticizing teachers and her earlier slips on Iran, Royal has seen her support remain strong in the countdown to the November 16 voting round. Yesterday she accused Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, her two Socialist rivals, of using dirty tricks against her, and she stood behind her remarks on a full 35-hour teacher work week. New polls show that if Royal faced Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of presidential voting, they would each receive 34% of the vote. Both of Royal's party rivals would receive far less if they were selected as the Socialist candidate.