Three candidates are contesting the French Socialist Party (PS) nominationfor President of the Republic. Two are considered also-rans, the formerpremier Laurent Fabius, and another ex-minister, Dominique Struass-Khan. Alleyes are turned towards Ségolène Royal, leading in opinion polls, andexpected to be chosen as best placed to affront the right wing choice inPresidential elections to be held in 2007.

France, the country of Jeanne d’Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie Curie,Simone de Beauvoir, and Simone Weil, is looking closely at the formerminister, and mother of four, in her campaign to become the first woman headof state practically since the 16th century.

With nominations officially closed on October 3, the 205,000 PS voters willcast ballots on November 16; and again on November 23, if no candidate receives 50per cent of the vote in the first balloting. Until the internal election,the Socialist candidates will participate in debate forums that are expectedto get nasty, despite undertakings by candidates in writing to maintaindecorum and politeness.

The anticipated race has drawn 89,000 new members to the party, largelysigned up on the internet at a special fee of 20 Euros. The regularmembership is tax deductible, and ranges from a minimum of 50 Euros, up to10 per cent of net earnings. As a result of the membership drive, the averageage of party members has fallen from 57 to 43.

Henri Rey of Science Po, the Parisian Grande Ã0/00cole of politics and publicpolicy, has studied the membership of the PS. In an interview forLibération, the left of centre daily, he described party activists aspluralists at heart, ready to debate ideas, not drawn to forming clansaround personalities. Divisions change depending on the issues.

This has allowed the party to survive its major differences such as thesplit over the referendum on Europe for instance. And, as Henri Rey hassuggested, the PS is not just an electoral committee, like the Democrats inthe U.S. for instance. The French socialists contribute to policy followedby the leadership.

With Ségolène Royal the party is moving to a more centre-left position, asopposed to a coalition of the broader left strategy. Interestingly, lookingat both its coalition partners when in government, the French CommunistParty is now headed by a woman, and the Greens have been led by a woman formany years, but if it takes the woman candidate as leader, the PS looks tobe hunting voters on grounds owned until now by centrist parties joined tothe right in coalition.

The reality of French politics was re-defined by the first ballot in thePresidential election of 2002 where the extreme right candidate finishedsecond, ahead of the Socialist candidate, and behind the Gaullist, JacquesChirac, who was eventually elected easily, with the grudging support of theleft, in the run-off between the top two finishers.

The leading Gaullist candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, currently party president,and Minister of the Interior (where he is in charge of internal security,the police, and the courts) without openly courting the extreme right vote,has established his right wing credentials through his tough stance onimmigration, and his heavy handed handling of last year’s youth riots. Last time the Socialists, Communists, and Green coalition partners wereunable to agree on a common candidate for President, and it opened the doorto the right.

In order for the Socialist candidate to get through to the second round ofvoting something has to change. Ségolène Royal seems to have borrowed fromthe writings of George Lakoff, the American critic of left and right framingof issues. Against the authoritarian father figure presented by the right — Bush and Bush père in the U.S., Chirac in France — Royal presents thenurturing family, French style. Though unmarried, her partner, co-parent,and father to the four children, is François Holland, Secretary-General andtitular head of the PS, who himself was considered a candidate for thenomination Ségolène seems ready to secure.

As the internal race begins in earnest, Royal has the support of thetraditional Socialist Marseille, and its surrounding regions, and the latterday Socialist bastion of Lille in the industrial North.

While ready to capture the traditional Socialist membership, she has aimedher political message at broader French society in a clear attempt to escapethe vote splitting among the left.

The extreme right has grown through appealing to former left voters. Herstrategy is to draw on the progressive centrists, opposed to Sarkozy and anopen alliance of the right and the extreme right. Opinion polls show herbeating Sarko in a head-to-head showdown, the only Socialist candidate to doso: Ségo versus Sarko, as the likely clash is described.

In the coming weeks, her Socialist credentials will be tested, but barringmisfortune, when the 50th anniversary of the Fifth French Republic iscelebrated in 2008, it will be with a woman, Ségolène Royal, presiding overthe festivities, which will only be fitting as the symbol of the FrenchRepublic is a woman, Marianne.

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...