Combative Chirac tipped to run for third term

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The Independent Online

There is fight in the old dog yet. President Jacques Chirac, 74, made a scarcely veiled attack on his would-be successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, yesterday in his traditional new year speech to the government.

The combative tone of the President's series of new year declarations - or "voeux" - has led some commentators to ask whether he might, after all, be considering a campaign for a third term this spring. One veteran analyst of Chiraquian language, the philosopher Yves Michaud, is certain that the President has made up his mind and that he plans to run even if it means splitting the centre-right vote in April and May.

Other political commentators are less convinced. They say that, at the age of 74, and with disastrously low poll ratings, M. Chirac has been warned by his advisers that there is "no room" for him to attempt a fifth presidential campaign.

All the same, M. Chirac made it clear yesterday that he will not yet roll over and allow his leadership of the French centre-right to pass quietly to his former protégé Nicolas Sarkozy, 51. In a declaration at the Elysée Palace, the President warned that the campaign must not be fought on a "tabula rasa" - or blanket rejection of 11 years of Chiraquian rule.

M. Sarkozy, the Interior Minister, is the only candidate to be "nominated" by the ruling party on 14 January. He has promised the French people a "quiet rupture" with the centrist policies of the past. A huge banner outside the headquarters of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) - also Chirac's party - urges voters to "imagine the France that comes afterwards" (in other words, France after Chirac).

In his declaration to ministers yesterday, M. Chirac urged them to reject the "temptation" to offer a complete break with the past. He told them to be proud of the many successes of his presidency.

In his three new year declarations so far, M. Chirac has neither announced his retirement, nor his intention to run. He has not given any sign of backing M. Sarkozy.

Yves Michaud, who has written a book which analyses M. Chirac's use of language, says the President's choice of words in his televised new year address on Sunday gives a strong signal of his intentions. M. Chirac said the French people were "sovereign" and should not blindly follow the choice of political parties.

Michaud believes this indicates that M. Chirac is considering an independent campaign.

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