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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Left hopes for renewal after Royal loss
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Paris

Segolene Royal
Royal is the first woman to get this far in a French presidential election.

She was holding a red rose and wearing a red T-shirt with the name of her heroine.

At 16, Elise Poussin is too young to vote, but she is one of thousands of young people across France who have got an early taste of politics in this election, which has gripped the French for months like a political soap opera.

Elise had come to the imposing headquarters of the Socialist Party to catch a glimpse of Segolene Royal, hoping for victory but fearing defeat.

Hugging a friend for comfort, she watched the socialist candidate, dressed in one of her trademark tailored white jackets, admitting defeat on television.

"We're all very disappointed, but we expected it," Elise told me. "We didn't want to believe it, but now it's real."

New leader

An army colonel's daughter, Segolene Royal fought to the last, with a steely will that few had expected in the elegant mother of four. But it looked like mission impossible even to those who voted for her.

Their vote often seemed motivated by fear of Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than confidence in the policies or competence of his socialist rival.

Segolene Royal
Royal achieved the highest vote by a socialist leader since 1995

The third consecutive defeat for the socialists in a presidential election was the story of a death foretold. The old-style French left is probably dead tonight. But a new leader of the left may have emerged.

For while Nicolas Sarkozy can argue he has got a popular mandate to change France, Segolene Royal can say she has got an equally strong mandate to modernise her party.

With over 47% of the vote, her score is the highest achieved by a socialist leader since 1995.

To cheers from her adoring fans, she said her campaign had launched "a profound renewal of political life and of the left," which would lead to future victory.

But she has got very little time to prepare for the next battle.

Traditional allies

Next month, France goes to the polls again for the parliamentary election.

The socialists' traditional allies on the far left have been all but wiped out in these elections

Francois Hollande, the socialist party leader who also happens to be Ms Royal's partner, admitted mistakes had been made, but called for unity.

Many think the party could split, with some leaders (or "elephants," as they are called) insisting the socialists should stick to its old anti-liberal principles, a veiled rejection of capitalism as a whole.

But the socialists' traditional allies on the far left have been all but wiped out in these elections.

The best option, others claim, is to continue the rapprochement already started by Ms Royal to the centrist leader Francois Bayrou, who lost in the first round, but with enough votes to launch a new Democratic Movement later this week.

This may be the only way to bring the French socialists into the European mainstream as a social democratic movement.

But some feel that this new-found alliance has already failed, as too few of Mr Bayrou's voters backed Ms Royal in the second round.

Whatever happens, the French political landscape is shifting fast. And young people like Elise Poussin will be part of it. In the end, she did not get to see Segolene Royal in the flesh.

But she will continue to oppose Nicolas Sarkozy's policies - and in five years, she is certainly going to vote.

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