Balladur slides in public ratings

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EDOUARD Balladur, the French Prime Minister, lost nine percentage points in an opinion poll published yesterday, confirming a recent trend indicating that his fortunes have turned.

The poll, in the weekly Journal du Dimanche and conducted by the Ifop institute, gave him only 47 per cent of positive opinion, compared with 56 per cent a month ago. Those who declared themselves dissatisfied with Mr Balladur's performance totalled 43 per cent, 10 points up on a month ago. It is the first time that negative opinions of Mr Balladur have come so close to his approval rating.

Mr Balladur's slide followed violent fishermen's demonstrations two weeks ago, controversy over state funding of private schools and an attack on him by Andre Rousselet, the outgoing head of the Canal Plus television channel, who said Mr Balladur had conspired to have him removed from the station he founded.

Since the Gaullist Mr Balladur was appointed Prime Minister after the right's landslide victory in parliamentary elections last month, he has enjoyed unprecedented levels of popularity. This has made him the most favoured candidate to be France's next president when President Francois Mitterrand's term ends in May of next year. The Socialist Mr Mitterrand lost one point to drop to 41 per cent of positive opinions.

Mr Balladur has not so far confirmed that he will be a presidential candidate but his popularity has made him in many eyes the more probable Gaullist candidate than Jacques Chirac, the president of the Gaullist RPR party, who had been the Gaullists' only likely contender until a few months ago. If Mr Balladur's popularity continues to slide, Mr Chirac can be expected to try to exploit the situation, causing serious tensions within the conservative coalition.

In another presidential poll by the Sofres institute for the Le Nouvel Observateur magazine, Mr Balladur dropped 10 points, but was still at the top with 58 per cent. In October he had 68 per cent.