Charles Pasqua, a former interior minister who represents a populist, right-wing trend in the RPR, said Mr Mitterrand would be obliged by 'republican tradition' to offer the job to Mr Chirac, who was prime minister under Mr Mitterrand in the unhappy left-right 1986-88 cohabitation. A 'cohabitation bis' is expected to emerge after the second round of National Assembly elections on 28 March.
Mr Pasqua, who made these remarks on Monday evening, is under fire from the ruling Socialists for lowering the tone of the campaign. On Sunday, he said Laurent Fabius, the Socialist first-secretary and former prime minister, had been 'born with a silver spoon in his mouth' and accused Socialist politicians of running 'a mafioso system'.
Mr Fabius replied that, as far as mafioso methods were concerned, 'we are dealing with a specialist'.
He recalled that Mr Pasqua was one of the founders of the controversial Sac parallel security service set up around Charles d Gaulle during the Algerian war of independence.
Mr Pasqua's remarks about Mr Chirac evoked speculation that some RPR leaders might like their chief, currently the right's best-placed candidate for presidential elections in May 1995, to lead the government again. Last time, he and his government were outmanoeuvred by Mr Mitterrand who successfully sought re- election in 1988. This time, however, Mr Mitterrand, whose popularity is at a low 26 per cent, according to one recent poll, will be 78 and certain to retire.
Mr Pasqua's words may have been designed to cool the enthusiasm of the patrician Edouard Balladur, the 1986-88 finance minister and a Pasqua rival who is tipped as the most likely Gaullist prime minister after March, and of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former president who is tipped as the best placed in the centre-right Union for French Democracy.
A poll by the Louis Harris organisation released yesterday put Mr Balladur as voters' clear favourite to head the government if the conservatives win. Twenty- two per cent of those polled wanted him as prime minister with only 11 per cent opting for Mr Giscard d'Estaing.
Mr Pasqua said he would not advise Mr Chirac on whether he should accept the post. Traditionally, the Gaullists are the biggest party on the right.
The left-right sniping of the past few days follows predictions that the right will not only win in March but will win massively. If it does, the new conservative government will be under pressure from the back benches to push Mr Mitterrand from office. Constitutionally, the President, who runs foreign policy and defence, is under no obligation to step down if the electorate chooses a government of a different stripe.
A poll by the Ipsos institute published by the weekly Le Point gave the right between 425 and 450 of the assembly's 577 seats, with the Socialists, currently the largest group with more than 270 deputies, reduced to 105 at best. The poll also had the Communist presence halved to about a dozen deputies with the ecologists, hitherto painted as probable power- brokers on the left, taking only three to 10 seats. The far-right National Front was tipped to take just one or two seats.Reuse content