Balladur leaps ahead in French opinion poll

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The Independent Online
EDOUARD BALLADUR, the French Prime Minister, jumped an impressive 10 percentage points in an opinion poll published yesterday while the weak position of Michel Rocard, the Socialist Party leader, could rule him out as a serious candidate for next year's presidential election.

The Gaullist Prime Minister, who had been slipping in recent polls, took 54 per cent of positive opinions in the sounding by the BVA institute for Paris-Match. A month ago, he had only 44 per cent.

At the same time, the conservative coalition of the Gaullist RPR party and the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) was credited with 40 per cent of voting intentions in next month's European elections. Trailing far behind in second place was the Socialist Party list led by Mr Rocard with only 17.5 per cent.

If Mr Rocard gets less than 20 per cent in the European election on 12 June, the consensus is that his position as the Socialist Party candidate to succeed President Francois Mitterrand in elections in 12 months' time will be severely compromised.

Last week, Mr Mitterrand, who makes little effort to disguise his differences with Mr Rocard, a long-time rival although they are both from the same party, was reported to have told his staff that he would support whoever was the Socialist candidate for the presidency. This followed informed rumours that the President was pushing Bernard Tapie, the entrepreneur turned politician, to make a presidential bid and split the left-wing vote to undermine Mr Rocard.

Mr Mitterrand was plainly trying to dissociate himself from the controversies surrounding Mr Tapie, who faces several legal charges for his business affairs and was stripped of his post of president of the Olympique de Marseille soccer team in a bribery scandal last month.

If, however, Mr Rocard, who lost his National Assembly seat in last year's parliamentary election, does do badly next month, this could open the field for another Socialist candidate. One strong possibility would be Jack Lang, the former culture minister who, like Mr Tapie, is especially popular with the young.

Mr Balladur's earlier descent in the polls gave new hope to Jacques Chirac, the RPR leader and main Gaullist candidate for the presidency. Mr Balladur, although he has never said he wants to succeed Mr Mitterrand, has been considered a stronger candidate because of his high standing in public opinion.

On Tuesday evening, President Mitterrand gave an hour- long interview on television, part of a series of public appearances he has planned for his last year in office. He made it plain that he intended to retain his commmanding role in defence and foreign affairs.

Mr Mitterrand, in relaxed and even jovial form, took only mixed reviews for his performance, gaining headlines such as 'Twilight Boulevard'.