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December 14, 2005

A WOMAN FOR FRANCE'S SOCIALISTS? THE RAPID RISE OF SEGOLENE ROYAL

Nouvel_obs_cover_segoleneThe new issue of France's largest newsweekly (with 500,000 circulation), the mildly left Nouvel Observateur -- just out today -- gives a huge boost to the 2007 presidential candidacy of the Socialist Ségolène Royal by putting her on its cover (left) with the headline, "And if it were her..." and a flattering, not to say gushy, package of articles. (Le Monde, too -- whose bosses desperately want to back a winner --has showered her with very positive and overindulgent coverage.)

Royal has been leading all the other Socialist presidential candidates in the polls for just two months, ever since she declared her interest in the party's presidential nomination in an interview with the weekly Paris-Match in October. In the latest poll, taken ten days ago by the leading French polling institute IFOP for the weekly Journal du Dimanche, she gets the preference of 29% of Socialist Party sympathizers, well ahead of all the other candidates for the Socialist nomination -- former Culture Minister Jack_lang_best_3Jack Lang (left, previously the long-time Socialist front-runner in the polls), former Economy and Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn (right), Dominique_strausskahn_2 former Health Minister (and former UN envoy in the ex-Yugoslavia) Bernard Kouchner  (lower left) Bernard_kouchner -- and Segolene's own domestic partner, the party's boss as its First Secretary, Francois Hollande (lower right), Francois_hollande_grim_3 none of whom gets more than 13%.

Who is Ségolène Royal? At 52, she is the president of the Poitou-Charentes regional government. "Ségo," as she is popularly known, is a product of l'Ecole Nationale de l'Administration -- l'ENA -- the super-elite, prestigious postgraduate school for France's bureaucrats, from whose ranks come nearly all of the political leaders of left and right (to the great detriment of representativity in French politics). "Sego" was in the same ENA class as her companion, party leader Hollande -- and as the current conservative Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

She first came to public notice as one of the "filles de Mitterrand," one of three prominent female counselors to the late Socialist President (the others were Elizabeth Guigou, later Justice Minister; and Martine Aubry, later Employment Minister, now Mayor of Lille.) Ségolène was first elected a deputy (member of parliament) in 1988, was named Mitterand's Minister of the Environment in 1992, and later served as junior Minister for the Family.

But the most intriguing fact about Ségolène is that she is what Americans would call Segolene_hollande the common-law wife of the Socialists' current leader, the colorless Francois Hollande, with whom she has had four children but never married -- after civil unions became legal in 2001, the couple took advantage of the new law to formalize their domestic arrangement (photo right, the couple together.) And Hollande's own presidential ambitions are hardly a secret. After his lady's headline-making Paris Match interview, a surprised Hollande admitted to reporters that "Ségo" hadn't informed him in advance she was going to use it to unveil her own designs on the presidential Elysée Palace.

One of the reasons for Ségolène's popularity is that she's been on TV a great deal as an outspoken "family values" crusader, and a fairly censorious one -- a deliberate, Hillaryesque appeal by her to conservative voters. She's volubly denounced sex and violence on TV. As Minister for the Family, she opposed the distribution of sex-education brochures in the schools -- saying they'd lead to "debauchery" -- and supported government censorship that preventd two AIDS-prevention spots from airing on television, calling them "obscene"; these were both positions which earned her the enmity of the gay and AIDS communities. But if the uncritical Nouvel Obs package on her has hardly anything on her political positions on substantive issues, it is also because -- as the iconoclastic centrist weekly Marianne(logo left) noted in a November 6 Marianne_logo profile of Ségolène Royal -- "she's avoided taking positions on big subjects on which there is sharp conflict, or on the economy, or on international affairs." Nouvel Obs also didn't mention that, in the middle of the rebellion that spread across France in November, Madame Royal's solution was...the reinstitution of military conscription! Not a word from the centrist Ségolène about how to combat the soul-destroying racism that was the root cause of the rioting. A recent acid portrait of her in the influential satiric-investigative political weekly Le Canard Enchainé portrayed her as a preachy, moralizing martinet, bereft of original ideas, with an authoritarian personal style and an ill-concealed disdain for her party colleagues.

Will a gender gap against an all-male field, good looks, and moral lecturing be enough to get Ségolène the Socialists' 2007 nomination for president? One wonders where she'll be in the polls once she's been the subject of critical press coverage under a microscope, as will Ps_logo_4undoubtedly happen in the year before the Socialist candidate's selection. Or how she'll fare if she is forced to take positions on the core social and economic issues that have led to the a gaping expansion of what the French call the "social fracture," of which last month's riotous rebellion in the ghettos was the most serious -- but hardly only -- symptom. Moreover, the process to select the presidential candidate -- currently designated by a majority vote of the 127,000 dues-paying Socialist Party members -- appears about to change.

There's been a lot of talk by party leaders -- and pressure from the grassroots -- for an Italian-style left primary, which its winner and the leader of the left-center Italian Romano_prodi_2 coalition, Romano Prodi, came to last month's French Socialist Party congress to explain in a keynote speech. In Italy, Prodi (right) was the winner of a primary open to all leftists, some 4 million-plus of whom participated in it this Delanoe summer. That's the solution being proposed by associates of openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe (left.), a popular party figure. But the broad left electorate appears in the opinion polls to be feistier and substantially to the left of the rather docile Socialist membership. For example, Ségolène joined Hollande in loudly demanding a Yes vote in favor of the proposed European Constitution in France's May referendum -- yet three-quarters of the left electorate voted No to the Euroconstitution, because they saw the document as setting in concrete a pro-corporate Europe. Party boss Hollande has proposed a primary open to Socialist sympathizers only. And in any case, the other significant but much smaller parties making up the French left -- the Communists, Greens, and the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) -- have all declared their opposition to participating in an all-left primary with the Socialists, fearing they'd be overwhelmed. Moreover, Ségolène has said she won't run if her domestic partner Hollande does -- but Hollande is trailing badly in the polls for the '07 nomination. Finally, Ségolène has no real network or apparatus of support within the party membership, many of whose activists are already committed to other candidates -- a membership that would surely play a weighty role in a Socialist primary. Hollande, of course, could undoubtedly deliver at least a third of them to her if he so chose. But we'll have to wait and see if the press-pushed boomlet for Ségolène is more than a mediatic flash in the pan.

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Posted by: ds | Oct 25, 2006 5:58:00 AM

Why is it that all I read from your overtly narrow minded perspective is negatively inspired jibberish from the mouth of the eternal victim. Is it possible to read a Jewish written publication that for once condones the actions of certain governing powers, or perhaps proposes some sort of solution to these seemingly never ending problems? In reference to your article about Ukrainian President Yushchenko, how has his term in office, as you infer it to be, been totally hypocritical and anti-semitic? Perhaps you should understand that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are some of the core foundations of his coming to power. Or perhaps you would lead us to believe that Ukraine should have followed the path of its northern Neighbour Belarus, and taken on a path of religious persecution and state sanctioned control of speech! Please be aware that despite your false assumptions, Ukraine has now turned down a path where all peoples are allowed to practice what religion they chose, voice their opinions openly without fear of persecution, and this is also applicable to the Jewish Community. Furthermore, please be culturally aware of the Ukrainian people, and spell our Capital 'Kyiv' - Kiev (as you incorrectly spelt it)is a Russian spelling, and a remnant of an evil Soviet dictatorship which as I'm sure you are aware was horrifically anti-semitic! All efforts to delegate this part of Ukrainian history to the annals of Encyclopedia's should be taken by all sectors of the community, including yourself.

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Posted by: Scott | Dec 15, 2005 5:46:20 PM

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