BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 6 May, 2002, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Chirac's call to action
Jacques Chirac after winning election
Chirac's real challenge is to beat the left in June
test hello test
By Hugh Schofield
Re-elected by a massive majority, French President Jacques Chirac wants to build his new term around a simple and unaccustomed new concept - action.

Forced to sit on his hands during five years of "cohabitation" with the Socialists, the 69-year-old president was deeply frustrated by his enforced immobility.

Jacques Chirac has all the cards in his hand. Whether he will know how to play them is another question

Commentator Alain Minc
Now invigorated by his overwhelming triumph over far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen, President Chirac has a new chance to shake off his idleness and prove himself a dynamic leader of the nation.

He cannot afford to miss it.

His instructions to newly-appointed Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will have been clear - name a new cabinet and get moving.

Avoiding 'cohabitation'

In the five weeks running up to the crucial parliamentary elections, Mr Chirac and his team will seize the initiative by announcing plans for clamping down on crime, freeing up the economy and modernising the state administration.

Resigning PM Jospin and President Chirac at Elysee Palace
Jospin (left) had five years of uneasy 'cohabitation' with Chirac
The implicit challenge to the electorate is clear - unless you give us a mandate to carry through these ideas, you will be guilty of dragging the country into another five years of inertia.

Many swing voters will find this a compelling argument. If his luck holds out, President Chirac could well find himself by mid-June unexpectedly well-placed to lead the country forward.

As commentator Alain Minc put it, "Jacques Chirac has all the cards in his hand. Whether he will know how to play them is another question, but unquestionably the right has never been in a more favourable situation."

Left-wing hopes

But the game is not over yet. France's left-wing parties were devastated by the defeat of Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential vote, and looked set for a deadly period of mutual back-knifing.

But the unprecedented display of public outrage at Le Pen's qualification has given them new urgency, new hope and a new sense of unity.

The left sees Chirac's massive victory as its own, and now it intends to follow through with a comeback at the parliamentary elections - forcing the president into another crippling cohabitation.

To that must be added the danger of a big vote for Le Pen's National Front (FN) in the 9 June first round.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Chirac has chosen Jean-Pierre Raffarin as his new prime minister
The FN may be incapable, because of the electoral arithmetic, of taking more than a handful of seats, but it can keep many more out of the hands of Chirac supporters by splitting the right-wing vote.

Given the state of war between the Chirac and Le Pen camps, the president can expect no quarter.

But no-one should underestimate the momentum that can build up behind a newly elected French president.

Chirac may owe his massive majority to the votes of the left - but in politics it is power that counts, not how it was achieved.

Today for the first time in five years, Chirac can exercise that power to the full.

The BBC's Jon Sopel
"The National Front didn't do as well as they hoped"
The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"Raffarin is a moderate conservative"
See also:

06 May 02 | Europe
Chirac names moderate as PM
06 May 02 | Europe
Uncertain road ahead for Chirac
06 May 02 | Europe
In pictures: Chirac's victory
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories