Chirac puts faith in odd couple of right

Alliance of Seguin and Madelin stuns French electorate
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The Independent Online
Stranger and stranger. Two political figures from the extreme left and right of the ruling coalition have put themselves forward as the dream ticket to govern France if the centre-right wins Sunday's second round of the parliamentary elections.

Philippe Seguin of the Gaullist RPR and Alain Madelin of the UDF alliance spent much of the presidential election two years ago insulting each other. They now say their views are "complementary" and they have, in effect, nominated themselves as the best choice to be prime minister and finance minister if the centre-right wins the election this weekend. In British terms, this would be the equivalent of a government run by Kenneth Clarke and Michael Portillo.

The National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen summed up the widespread astonishment in France with his usual vulgarity. A Seguin-Madelin government would, he said, be a "savage beast", because "it would not know how to shit".

The view of President Jacques Chirac, who would make the choice of Prime Minister, is not known. Officially, the electorate is being asked to return the governing coalition on Sunday without knowing who its prime minister would be. Alain Juppe, who ran the government for the last two years, said on Monday that he intended to stand down following the unexpected victory for the left in the first round last Sunday.

But the strange couple was heavily touted yesterday on the front page of Le Figaro, which has been the most craven of government bulletin-boards during the campaign. This suggests that the Seguin-Madelin ticket may have the unofficial blessing of the Elysee Palace. At the very least, it suggests that the President, now in charge of the centre-right campaign, thinks that the best way of winning is to appear to try to appeal to all tendencies at once: the liberal and the statist, the Emu-sceptics and the Emu-fanatics. Another interpretation is that the President sees little chance of winning on Sunday and has, in effect, abandoned all control of the situation.

Philippe Seguin, 54, is the standard-bearer of the statist, social-democratic, Euro-sceptical wing of the Gaullist Party. He campaigned against the ratification of the Maastricht treaty and has argued that France should not try to shrink its large state sector but to make it work better. Alain Madelin, 51, is as near as mainstream French politics gets to a free-market, supply- side liberal. He wants to shrink the state and is an unqualified fan of Emu.

In a joint appearance in Chambery on Wednesday, they said there was nothing incompatible about their views. They said the creation of the Fifth Republic by General Charles de Gaulle in 1958 was an attempt to reconcile "financial rigour and social generosity". In office, they would try to renew this historic alliance between the two forces of the traditional French right, liberalism and Gaullism. Others might argue that it is the inability to decide clearly between the two which has created many of the problems in French politics and the French economy.

Lionel Jospin, the Socialist leader, said their hastily arranged and "baroque" partnership was a further sign of "confusion" and "disarray" on the right.

The outcome of Sunday's second round remains extremely hazardous to predict. It will depend on the results of at least 100 constituencies which will probably be decided by less than 1 per cent of the vote.