A poll conducted by the CSA Institute predicted that Mr Rocard would not regain his National Assembly seat in the Yvelines department west of Paris. It said the conservative opposition candidate would take 52 per cent to 48 for Mr Rocard in the second round of voting on 28 March.
Although this would obviously be a setback for Mr Rocard, who galvanised a desultory Socialist campaign last month by calling for a 'big bang' to create a new left and centre alliance, it would not necessarily be disastrous. Presidential candidates have a tradition of remaining aloof from the fray and, with two years before Francois Mitterrand steps down at the next presidential election, Mr Rocard could recover.
His constituency has always been vulnerable since opinion polls have forecast for months that the right would win by a landslide. But, given a good personal popularity rating, Mr Rocard, who was prime minister from 1988 to 1991, could well make up ground between now and 28 March. Even opposition politicians say they consider some downturn in predictions of the right's victory.
Mr Noir, who in the late 1980s was seen as a young presidential hopeful, is the victim of a campaign by the Gaullist RPR, to which he once belonged, and of his own misfortunes.
Mr Noir, 48, left the RPR in December 1990, denouncing the 'mediocrity' of the conservative opposition and saying he wanted to provoke 'an electric shock'. Since then the RPR has had him in its sights.
The RPR Edecided to field Alain Merieux as the official Gaullist candidatTHER write errore against Mr Noir. Mr Noir appealed for a pact before the registration of candidates closed on Sunday, to allow him to take the conservative ticket alone. This brought the acerbic comment from Mr Merieux that Mr Noir was like 'a little boy who, after breaking the others' toys, throws a big tantrum because nobody will play with him'.
An opinion poll by the BVA institute predicted that Mr Merieux would take the seat in the second round by gaining 51 per cent of the votes, with 49 per cent going to Mr Noir.
A number of Gaullist barons have travelled to Lyons to campaign for Mr Merieux, whose family owns the Institut Merieux medical laboratory, to ensure the defeat of Mr Noir.
The strength of Gaullist feeling against Mr Noir can be gauged by the fact that, in another Lyons constituency, Raymond Barre, the prime minister from 1976 to 1981 and an often recalcitrant member of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) with which the Gaullists are allied, has been allowed to stand as the only mainstream opposition candidate.
Mr Barre is as great a thorn in the flesh of the opposition. He has consistently refused to support motions of no confidence in the Socialist government, sometimes ensuring its survival, since this parliament was elected in 1988. Mr Noir, sitting as an independent since he left the RPR, has followed opposition voting lines.
Mr Noir, elected Mayor of Lyons in 1989 on a Gaullist ticket, used to have an impeccable 'Mr Clean' image. This is in tatters since Pierre Botton, his son-in- law, was jailed last November during inquiries into his financial affairs. Botton, who organised and financed Mr Noir's mayoral campaign, has been accused of a host of business misdeeds.
Mr Merieux is not untouched by controversy. The Institut Merieux has been accused of exporting unheated blood products, which could have been contaminated with the Aids virus, after they had been banned in France in 1985. To draw attention to this, a fringe candidate who says he is HIV-positive is standing in the same constituency as Mr Merieux.
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