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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Head start for Chirac's electoral entourage
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
PM Raffarin can capitalise on looking busy

Supporters of re-elected French president Jacques Chirac have been encouraged by new polls which suggest they are on course to win him the majority he badly needs in the National Assembly.


There is a clear potential advantage for the right

Pierre Giacometti
Ipsos director
The latest survey for Le Figaro newspaper showed the centre-right winning 40% of the vote in round one of the parliamentary elections on 9 June, against 37% for the left and 14% for the far-right National Front (FN).

In the deciding second round on 16 June, the centre-right has a clear lead both in straight two-ways against the left, and in so-called "triangulars" where it is also running against the far-right, the Ipsos poll said.

Though the survey did not predict the breakdown of the new National Assembly, Ipsos director Pierre Giacometti said "when we start projecting figures into seats there is a clear potential advantage for the right."

Headstart

Team Chirac has some clear advantages in the parliamentary campaign.

Jacques Chirac
President Chirac badly wants a sympathetic parliament
First they are in government.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin may in practice achieve little in the short time he has before the elections, but he can create an air of activity - with promises of tax cuts and tough new crime measures, and an implicit challenge to the voters to give him the mandate to carry them out.

Then there is the utter disarray in left-wing ranks.

Though the Socialists and their erstwhile coalition partners speak passionately about the wave of anti-FN protests that saw Chirac to victory, they know this is no substitute for what the left so conspicuously lacks: a programme for government.

But perhaps most convincingly, the centre-right can play up fears of a new period of "cohabitation", telling the electorate that without a clear presidential majority the country will be condemned to at best five years of paralysis, at worst a constitutional crisis.

"Cohabitation is the anti-solution," said Mr Raffarin on Wednesday.

Francois Bayrou
Mr Bayrou says the UMP is trying to establish a monopoly on the right
"It is a worn-out constitutional formula, leading to powerlessness in public life and the inexorable rise in support for extremist views."

He was speaking at a campaign rally in Paris for the 539 candidates from the new party - entitled the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) - upon which the centre-right's hopes now rest.

Bayrou's suspicions

The brainchild of former prime minister Alain Juppe, the UMP brings together President Chirac's long-standing political vehicle the Rally for the Republic (RPR), as well as large sections of its partners the Union for French Democracy (UDF) and Liberal Democracy (DL).

At this week's meeting, candidates were given information about how to fund their campaigns, allowed to pose for campaign photographs with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and given a stirring send-off by the prime minister.

In a choreographed display of unity, Mr Raffarin - who is from DL - was flanked by former RPR prime ministers Juppe and Edouard Balladur and the leading "Chiracien" from the UDF, Philippe Douste-Blazy.

UMP leaders insist that different political families will be respected within the party, but not all are happy.

Candidates pose with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
There were plenty of photo opportunities for candidates
Fiercely jealous of his freedom of action, the UDF's leader Francois Bayrou has decided to present his own candidates in around 120 constituencies.

Mr Bayrou, who came fourth with nearly 7% in the presidential election, fears being swamped inside the new movement which he identifies as a vehicle for Mr Juppe's own ambitions to succeed Mr Chirac as president.

"To try to group together all the different tendencies of the right and the centre and to imagine that this party could hold all the powers in France .. is to create an unprecedented situation. Even General de Gaulle never sought such a monopoly," Mr Bayrou said.

Mr Bayrou's decision to field a separate list has been attacked as irresponsible by the UMP, which fears that in some constituencies the centre-right vote will be split and as a result victory will go to the left or far-right candidates.

However overall the impact should be limited, because in France's two-round voting system whichever centre-right candidate wins through from round one will automatically get the support of the other.


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17 May 02 | Europe
16 May 02 | Europe
22 Apr 02 | Europe
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