Socialist Ségolène Royal launches campaign for French presidency

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Saturday, November 18, 2006 File:Segolene royal.jpg

Royal could be France's first female president
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François Hollande—partner and party leader

Royal is now a leading candidate to succeed Jacques Chirac in May 2007. She was elected yesterday by over 100,000 activists after a moderate, and some say Blairite, campaign.

In the early hours of Friday morning, the result of a vote by members of the French Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS) was announced, with centrist Ségolène Royal leading the poll to become their candidate in next year's election for President of the Republic.

While many parties contest the presidential elections, the winner is expected to be an official candidate of one of the two main parties, the Socialists and the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Speaking on French television tonight, François Hollande, leader of the PS and Royal's partner, announced a party recruitment drive to reinforce Royal's campaign against the larger UMP.

“Ask what you can do for your country”

Royal spent Friday in her home town of Melle, Deux-Sèvres, where she addressed the world's press, and spoke with supporters, before returning to Paris.

The selection has kept columnists and editorial writers busy. In her Friday press conference, she spoke directly to the French people; her words, “Gather, mobilise, ask what you can do for your country,” reminding John Lichfield (The Independent, London) of John F. Kennedy. The Manchester Guardian's Martin Kettle used Royal's success as an opportunity to criticise Tony Blair for appearing to back Nicholas Sarkozy of the UMP.

The UMP, the leading conservative party, plans to select its candidate in January. This is the first French presidential campaign where the party candidates are selected by a ballot of the mass membership.

French presidential elections traditionally involve a number of candidates (last elections in 2002 saw the French people choosing between 16 candidates.) One of the questions is now the ability of Royal to unite the French left. Traditionally, parties on the parliamentarian left (MDC, Les Verts, Parti Radical de Gauche, Parti Communiste) have been involved in a number of coalitions, most recently before the 2002 elections. Unity in government does not reflect in the polls as the governing majority was represented by four candidates in 2002: Lionel Jospin (PS), Robert Hue (PC), Noël Mamère (Les Verts), Jean-Pierre Chevènement (MDC). The division of the left in the first round of the elections in 2002 is one of the given explanations for the surprise second round opposing Jean-Marie Le Pen (FN) and Jacques Chirac.

France is a parliamentary democracy, where the President is the Head of State, but independent of both the National Assembly (legislature) and the executive, which is led by the Prime Minister. The presidency is a high profile and influential role, currently filled by conservative-aligned veteran statesman, Jacques Chirac, whose second term expires in May 2007.

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