Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, April 09, 2000

Front Page | National | International | Regional | Opinion | Business | Sport | Science & Tech | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Opinion | Previous | Next

Shadow-boxing

Mr. Chirac and Mr. Jospin are almost certain candidates for the next French presidential election scheduled for 2002. The municipal elections are a sort of dress rehearsal for what is to follow, says VAIJU NARAVANE.

``WE HAVE quite a panoply of conservative candidates to choose from this time,'' said Mr. Cedric Chevet, a municipal clerk, with an arch look at the Hotel de Ville, the Paris Mayor's sumptuous edifice. ``It's going to be an interesting election. The city's budget is huge, the job is prestigious and is seen as a stepping- stone to bigger political rewards. It served President Jacques Chirac as a trampoline in his leap towards the Elysee Palace so it's not surprising that anyone harbouring dreams of one day becoming President of France has his eye trained thisaways. What with the scandals we have had, the internecine quarrels that are going on and the stakes involved, its going to be highly entertaining,'' he says with a malicious grin.

Earlier this week, the former French Prime Minister, Mr. Eduard Balladur, announced that he too is a candidate in the Paris mayoral race, bringing the number of prominent right-wingers to half a dozen, including such political heavyweights as Mr. Philippe Seguin, former Minister and Speaker, the current Mayor, Mr. Jean Tiberi, and the former conservative Minister, Mr. Francoise de Panafieu. The Socialist challenge is being led by Mr. Bernard Delanoe who is already a councillor in Paris.

Certainly one of the hallmarks of the Paris mayoral race is raw political ambition. Nevertheless, the municipal election, particularly the jostle for the French capital's highest post, is also a precursor to bigger events. Municipal polls serve as a test for the mood of the electorate, giving a taste of what lies in store, especially by way of power shifts and political re- alignments.

In these days of co-habitation - France is led by a conservative President, Mr. Jacques Chirac, and a Socialist Prime Minister, Mr. Lionel Jospin - the French voter has taken a perverse delight in measuring up one leader against the other, keeping them both permanently guessing as to their place in his affections.

For many months, Mr. Jospin had the upper hand. His Government passed the 100-day test with flying colours and each triumph for Mr. Jospin meant a dent in Mr. Chirac's popularity. Until a couple of months ago, it seemed that Mr. Jospin could do no wrong while Chichi, as Mr. Chirac is familiarly called, could not get his act together. The economy was doing beautifully, the coalition appeared harmonious and the French Left wore the glow bestowed by popular approbation.

Then came a series of reverses for Mr. Jospin. He tried to set his own personal stamp on France's foreign policy in West Asia during a recent trip to Israel and Lebanon but was greeted with a hail of stones by angry Palestinian students and ended up being severely rapped on the knuckles for meddling in what is generally believed to be the special preserve of the President.

Then public sector employees began going on strike - nurses, taxmen, teachers and postal workers. Mr. Jospin was obliged to sack his highly unpopular Minister for Education, Science and Technology, Mr. Claude Allegre, and change the Ministers of Finance and Industry and Culture.

The result, of course, has been that Mr. Chirac's fortunes have begun to look up again, while Mr. Jospin's image has taken quite a battering. All the opinion polls conducted in March indicate that Mr. Chirac's popularity rating has gone up four points while that of Mr. Jospin has slipped by two percentage points.

For the first time since June 1997, when Mr. Jospin was installed at the Matignon Palace as France's Prime Minister, he is trailing Mr. Chirac in the polls.

However, Mr. Chirac has been able to draw little consolation from this new development. ``A majority continues to approve of the Government's work and the Cabinet reshuffle went down very well. This has proved disappointing to the President who had hoped to draw more mileage out of the fact that Mr. Jospin had to bring back supporters of the late Francoise Mitterrand such as Mr. Jack Lang who has been given the touchy Education portfolio or Mr. Laurant Fabius who is now looking after Finance and Industry,'' says a commentator, Mr. Alain Duhamel.

While the French like Mr. Chirac and respect his position as the Head of State, they feel he does not have a vision for the future the way Mr. Jospin does. The Prime Minister is seen as a rigorous, clever, intellectual - somewhat humourless but what the country needs.

Mr. Chirac is perceived as ``Mr. Nice Guy'' - warm-hearted, likeable but lacking Mr. Jospin's vision. However, the President's popularity with the French remains the Conservatives' biggest ace and most right-wing politicians agree that to win the municipal elections, they cannot do without Mr. Chirac on the campaign trail.

So much depends on the conservatives winning the municipal elections that Mr. Chirac is not being coy about calling the shots. Mr. Seguin is the only serious contender who can hope to carry off Paris City Hall, the cherry on the cake, from under the nose of Mr. Delanoe, that Mr. Chirac is making no secret of his support for him.

Mr. Chirac and Mr. Jospin are almost certain candidates for the next presidential election scheduled for 2002. The municipal elections are a sort of dress rehearsal for what is to follow. They are in any case a clear indication of which way public sentiment is going.

Polls indicate that the French are pretty much fed up of the internecine quarrels of the French Right. Mr. Chirac has realised that unless some form of unity can be imposed upon a bunch of pettily squabbling parties, the Right will remain discredited in the eyes of the voters. He has, therefore, decided to take the initiative to become the rallying point for the conservatives.

Send this article to Friends by E-Mail


Section  : Opinion
Previous : Political pawn
Next     : Between business & baby

Front Page | National | International | Regional | Opinion | Business | Sport | Science & Tech | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Copyright © 2000 The Hindu

Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu