French senators vote for president

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The Independent Online
FRANCE's senators elected Rene Monory, a former centrist minister, as president of their chamber yesterday. As the second personality of the state, he could become interim President of the Republic if President Francois Mitterrand decides to step down.

Mr Monory, 69, who held the industry and economy portfolios under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s and was education minister in the 1986-88 cohabitation cabinet under the Gaullist prime minister Jacques Chirac. Standing for the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), the biggest group in the Senate, he was elected in the second round of voting.

His election was made certain when the pugnacious Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist RPR leader in the Senate and former interior minister who campaigned to reject the ratification of the Maastricht treaty in last month's referendum, withdrew after the first vote.

Mr Pasqua obtained 102 votes in the 321-member house to Mr Monory's 125. The socialist and communist candidates took 72 and 15 votes respectively. In the second vote, Mr Monory took 200 votes, while the socialist had 76, the communist 16 and 28 votes were blank.

The Senate presidency election was the high spot of the opening of a French parliamentary session which will end with elections to the lower National Assembly next March that the centre-right opposition currently looks set to win.

The importance of Mr Monory's post lies in the fact that the Senate president takes over from the state president if the head of state is incapacitated or resigns. The outgoing Senate head, Alain Poher, 83, had to do this twice in his 24-year tenure. He took over from Charles de Gaulle in 1969 when the founder of the Fifth Republic resigned. In 1974, he was interim president when Georges Pompidou died.

There has been intense speculation that Mr Mitterrand, recovering from prostate surgery last month, might retire soon, especially after winning the Maastricht referendum. The President will be 76 on 26 October and, although one opinion poll shows a rise in his popularity this month, up seven points to 43 per cent, he and his socialist government remain unpopular.

Mr Mitterrand promised last year to set in motion procedures to reduce the seven-year presidential mandate to five by the end of 1992. His own second term will reach the five-year mark next May. Although he would not be constitutionally obliged to step down before his seven years end in 1995, it would politically difficult to remain in office.

Little in the recent outward behaviour of the President, who was diagnosed to have cancer of the prostate in an early stage, suggests that he is on the point of retiring. A British official who saw him on Wednesday during talks at the Elysee Palace with John Major said he found Mr Mitterrand 'feisty'.