Sombre Chirac vows to fight 'in the name of morality'

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The Independent Online

From "super liar" to super moralist in four days – even some of Jacques Chirac's supporters may have difficulty in accepting a tarnished President reincarnated as the democratic saviour of France.

As always with Mr Chirac, the difficulty is knowing whether he believes it himself.

Having run a first-round campaign on the far-right themes of crime and violence – complete with pamphlet showing the shadow of a black hand – President Chirac has declared himself to be in the "fight of his life ... in the name of morality, for a certain idea of France. I cannot accept the banalisation of intolerance and hatred," he told supporters at a rally in Rennes on Tuesday night.

The normal, cheerful campaign music had been cancelled. Mr Chirac wanted to present himself in sombre, statesmanlike, crisis-busting mode.

On Mr Chirac's side it can be said that, in his long political career, he has mostly stood firm against the far right and has only occasionally lapsed, before this year, into adopting far-right themes. As President, he was the first French head of state to recognise officially the part of France, as a state, in assisting the rounding-up of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War.

According to officials within his camp, he was genuinely shocked by the result of the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, when the Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, was eliminated by the second-place finish of the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. "I wish it had been Jospin," he reportedly whispered, while his campaign activists whooped with joy, knowing that Mr Chirac was guaranteed victory over Mr Le Pen in the second round on Sunday week.

The President is said by his officials to be disturbed by the result for what it says about the state of democracy in France, even though his record of political direction-changing and alleged financial wrongdoing is partly to blame. In recent weeks, Mr Chirac has been portrayed, almost affectionately, as super-menteur, or "super liar", in the satirical TV puppet show Les Guignols. The President is also said to be concerned that Mr Le Pen might score far more than the 20 to 25 per cent predicted by opinion polls on 5 May.

If the National Front scores 35 or even 40 per cent, as Mr Chirac fears, the parliamentary elections that follow in June would become a three-way dog fight between the left, the right and the far right, which could give Mr Chirac no clear majority in the National Assembly, or even a left-wing majority.