A poll by the BVA institute for the weekly Paris Match showed Mr Chirac beating Michel Rocard, the Socialist Party leader, by 61 per cent to 39 in the second round of the elections. Mr Balladur, the Gaullist Prime Minister, was credited with 59 per cent to 41 per cent for Mr Rocard.
Both Mr Balladur and Mr Chirac would be level-pegging with 55 per cent against Jacques Delors if the European Commission president were to be the Socialist candidate, the poll figures showed.
When the conservative coalition of the Gaullist RPR and the centre- right Union for French Democracy (UDF) trounced the Socialists in parliamentary elections 13 months ago, Mr Chirac, who had twice been prime minister, decided to remain on the sidelines to prepare for the presidential elections. President Francois Mitterrand, the Socialist incumbent, is expected to step down at the end of his second term in May 1995.
Some senior members of the RPR are known to have advised Mr Chirac a year ago against giving up the prime minister's post to Mr Balladur, a political ally of 30 years' standing. Charles Pasqua, the Interior Minister, is said to have told Mr Chirac that it was politically dangerous to lead a successful campaign and then pass the top job to a lieutenant.
Mr Balladur had an unprecedentedly high rating in opinion polls until the beginning of this year and, although he has never said he would be a presidential candidate, was perceived as the man most likely to succeed Mr Mitterrand.
According to associates, this led to tension between him and Mr Chirac. At the same time, other Gaullist barons, worried that Mr Chirac might bow out under the pressure of Mr Balladur's continuing high profile, started looking for other candidates. The refined Mr Balladur, although recognised as an efficient head of government, does not have a huge following among the Gaullist grass-roots.Reuse content