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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