Pretenders to presidency hover over the faltering Mitterrand

FRANCE has just witnessed one of the most extraordinary spectacles in its recent political history. The sight of Francois Mitterrand - weakened by advanced prostate cancer, discussing his health and defending his role under the Vichy regime of Marshal Petain live on television last week - was shocking, pathetic or admirable, depending on the beholder.

The main effect was to draw attention away from the succession to the President. While all eyes were on Mr Mitterrand, the battle to replace him - which may now come sooner than planned if he decides he cannot continue until the end of his mandate next May - receded into the background.

In what Raymond Barre, the former centrist prime minister and a perpetual presidentiable (a pretender to the presidency), dismisses as 'the microcosm' - the Parisian salons where the political classes chatter - the talk was that Mr Mitterrand, who will be 78 next month, could well leave the Elysee Palace by Christmas.

Constitutionally, what would happen next is clear cut and well tested. Twice before, when Charles de Gaulle resigned in 1969 and Georges Pompidou died in office in 1974, France was launched into an unexpected presidential campaign. Twenty years ago, it took barely six weeks from Pompidou's death for the two- round presidential election to be organised and for Valery Giscard d'Estaing to be installed as his successor.

This time, the President's departure would be easier to manage since it would merely bring forward a scheduled election by a few months. The names of the main contenders are already well known.

If Mr Mitterrand did go, he would be replaced in the first instance by the President of the Senate, Rene Monory, a former centrist finance and education minister; he would hold the reins until the election. Obligingly, Mr Monory said on Friday that he was 'psychologically ready' to stand in.

Given the political make-up of France at present, the next president should logically come from the right. The conservative coalition of the Gaullist RPR and the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) together have 80 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and the government of Edouard Balladur, elected 18 months ago, remains popular.

However, the right lost the last two presidential elections, in 1988 and 1981, in part because it put up two candidates each time. Jacques Chirac, RPR president and Mayor of Paris, stood for the party in 1981, and Giscard d'Estaing, the outgoing president, for the UDF; in 1988, Mr Barre ran for the UDF alongside Mr Chirac.

This time, there could be two candidates from the RPR alone. Mr Chirac has all but declared his candidature while Mr Balladur, riding high in the opinion polls, would be the favourite to win. For many commentators, his candidature is a foregone conclusion.

But the RPR grass roots are a contrary lot, and their preference could well be Mr Chirac, in whom they recognise more of the social awareness and earthiness that they expect from the heirs of De Gaulle.

The Gaullist legacy is seen as a mixture of conservatism and state control (it was he who, after the Second World War, set about nationalising the banks that Mr Balladur has been busy privatising) an obstinately independent foreign policy and social policies to help the underprivileged.

Mr Balladur, with his Savile Row suits and haughty manner, is seen as more aristocratic than Mr Chirac - even technocratic, a Gaullist insult for those functionaries who lack the common touch.

If they both ended up in the running, the way could be open to the left, particularly if the Socialist Party can persuade Jacques Delors, the outgoing European Commission President, to be its candidate.

Until now Mr Delors has hedged his bets, waiting to see precisely what the conservative line-up is likely to be. In private, he is reported to have said: 'Why should I stand against Balladur when I approve of his policies?'

Elsewhere in the conservative field, Mr Barre made noises last week suggesting that he might be a candidate; and Mr Giscard d'Estaing has never abandoned the hope that he may one day regain the Elysee.

Philippe de Villiers, whose maverick anti-Maastricht right- wing list took 12.5 per cent in last June's European election, resigned from the UDF on Friday, and said he might stand. In addition, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front is a certain candidate, though his likely 10 per cent first-round score will be counter-balanced by a similar Communist showing.

A handful of opinion polls have shown that Mr Delors would probably beat Mr Chirac. Another scenario favourable to Mr Delors would be a bruising Balladur-Chirac duel in the first round of voting - due on 23 April.

Even if the Prime Minister did go through to the second round on 7 May, when traditionally the first-round winners of each camp face each other, the damage done to the Gaullists' image could tip the balance in Mr Delors' favour.

(Photograph omitted)

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Head of Maths

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Head of Maths position at a prestigious ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week