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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 16:44 GMT
Chirac's accidental victory?
Jacques Chirac
Chirac: Paris sleaze could have been election albatross
By Robert Wain in Paris

The loss of Paris is the best news for President Jacques Chirac and the right in years.

Not a fashionable view, admittedly, when columns of assorted socialists, communists and Greens are conga-ing through the Place de l'Hotel-de-Ville. But one worth contemplating.

The reputation for institutionalised corruption would have hung round their necks like an albatross

After all, think what would have happened had the right - against all the odds, and in spite of its ineradicable stain of sleaze - actually managed to carry the Paris vote on Sunday against socialist Bertrand Delanoe.

Who would have become mayor? Philippe Seguin - the man who personally won barely 19% in the 18th arrondissement in the first round of the vote, and who ran such a lacklustre campaign his own supporters were tearing their hair out in frustration?

Or Jean Tiberi, the incumbent mayor and leader of a rival right-wing list, who happens to be the man most closely associated with the "system" and all that was wrong with the Gaullist regime in the capital?

Bertrand Delanoe
Delanoe: Administration will soon seem normal
Or maybe a third candidate - an outsider like Edouard Balladur - whom the left could have immediately pilloried as having no mandate, because not having run for the office?

No, in all respects, continuation of the right-wing's hold would have been a disaster. Face might briefly have been saved, but the reputation for institutionalised corruption would have hung round their necks like an albatross - dogging the campaign for next year's parliamentary and presidential elections.

Gall and wormwood

As Alain Madelin, the president of the Liberal Democracy party, put it: "The problem for the right has boiled down to one word - Paris. It was an archaic and discredited system of government that we have to leave behind."

As things stand, there has been a painful break. The left-wing's jubilation must be gall and wormwood to many a Gaullist who thought Paris would be bourgeois for a thousand years. But the result means that in an instant the right's most dangerous wound has been cauterised.

Jean Tiberi
Tiberi: Too closely associated with all that went wrong in Paris
Within a few months, left-wing control of the capital will be an established part of the political scene. The right - or more exactly Chirac's RPR - will no longer be exposed to the charge that its foundations are built on corruption.

And the shock may even force it to start the long overdue task of unifying its ranks in time for next year's campaigns.

Even the claim that the loss of Paris will do irremediable damage to President Chirac, who was its long-serving mayor and put the "system" in place, owes more to journalistic shorthand than reality.

It is after all six years since he left the Hotel de Ville, and during his time as president he has successfully raised himself well above the grubby fray.

Perhaps history will relate that the right's biggest triumph of all was losing Paris

As Philippe Mechet, head of the Sofres polling institute, points out: "Most French people see Chirac as their president, not as a former mayor of Paris."

So all in all Sunday was a good day for the right.

They scored excellently in the provinces, taking control of about 40 towns and cities. The left-wing government of Lionel Jospin was put on the defensive, with several ministers failing in their attempts to take or retain mayorships.

But perhaps history will relate that the right's biggest triumph of all was losing Paris.

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | Europe
Socialists make history in Paris
14 Mar 01 | Europe
Paris right cuts 11th-hour deal
19 Mar 01 | Africa
Press sees blow for Chirac
09 Mar 01 | Europe
Parisians air their views
09 Mar 01 | Europe
Paris set for revolution
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