Giscard may split the right

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The Independent Online
FRANCE's conservative parties met yesterday to patch up a damaging split before parliamentary elections next March. The problem was caused by the former President, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who said in a television interview on Sunday that he may stand in the next presidential elections. This angered the Gaullist RPR party of Jacques Chirac, which has has an agreement for the past 12 months with Mr Giscard d'Estaing's Union for French Democracy (UDF) to hold 'primaries' to find a single conservative candidate. The right has fielded two candidates in the last two presidential polls, easing the way for the Socialist incumbent, Francois Mitterrand.

Yesterday, Alain Juppe, the secretary-general of the RPR, and his UDF counterpart, Francois Bayrou, agreed to accelerate moves towards a co-ordinated strategy. The two conservative groups are expected to gain a combined majority in elections to the National Assembly in March. Several leaders on the right have ruled out a new left-right 'cohabitation' of a conservative cabinet under a Socialist president, apparently hoping to put pressure on Mr Mitterrand to step down in the event of a right-wing victory.

Opinion polls put Mr Chirac ahead of Mr Giscard d'Estaing as the right's best candidate. The latter appears to be positioning himself in the belief that the conservative parties will not be able to organise primaries in time.

While the illusion of conservative unity was shattered by Mr Giscard d'Estaing, the left, too, has its cross to bear. Marie- Noelle Lienemann, the Housing Minister, said on Wednesday that the Socialist Party, of which she is a member, had 'done its time'. Some Socialists called for her to leave the government.

The various squabbles have diverted attention from this week's debate in the National Assembly on the 1993 budget. This evening, the opposition is due to put a motion of no confidence in the government but it is unlikely to pass.