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Chirac fails to quash label of lame duck

Jacques Chirac, interviewed yesterday for the the first time since his right-wing coalition's electoral defeat on 1 June, has failed to relieve the impression that he is now a lame-duck president.

The television interview, transmitted from the Elysee Palace, was an attempt to improve the President's credibility, battered by the Socialist electoral victory in a poll which Mr Chirac had called a year earlier than he needed to.

But the Gaullist head of state missed the opportunity to stamp his authority on the "cohabitation" arrangement with the new Prime Minister, as his predecessor, Francois Mitterand had done when he found himself in the same position - with Mr Chirac as premier - in 1986.

In an interview then, Mr Mitterrand used the opportunity to announce his refusal to accept the new government's proposed privatisation plans, indicating that he had no intention of relinquishing any of his power or authority to his cohabitation partner and rival.

Mr Chirac's performance was not so convincing. Questioned on defence, Europe, justice, immigration, privatisation, social reforms and the economy, for more than an hour, the President failed to offer anything that was very new, different or likely to improve his credibility.

Though fluent and fairly convincing on the some less controversial topics, such as the enlargement of Nato, he was at times irritable and defensive.

The workings of the cohabitation also remain fairly vague. Although, when pushed, the President said he believed that it would work, it is unclear on what grounds this belief is based. And when he was asked who would take the final decision on entry into the single currency, he simply refused to answer.

Mr Chirac clearly wishes to pursue the policies established by his government over the last two years. However, if Mitterrand managed to retain a strong position during his two separate periods of cohabitation, between 1986-88 and 1993-5, it was thanks in large part to his political guile and skillful handling of the situation. Mr Chirac's position is a much weaker one: he is widely blamed for the electoral defeat, he is unpopular, and, unlike Mitterrand, he is faced with five years of cohabitation - the remainder of his political mandate .