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Au Revoir, Says Jacques Chirac

  • March 12th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

chirac-004.jpgThe French President announced the expected on Sunday night (11.3.07), telling a national TV audience he would not stand for election to a third term.

He told the French people he loved them and said he would go on with his “life’s work”, for “justice, progress, peace and the greatness of France”.

It was a life’s work spanning over 45 years in politics.

Trained in management in the elite college system (the grandes ecoles) he was already Prime Minister in the mid-1970s.

After the post of Mayor of Paris was re-created, under the then President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, he made an unexpected and successful grab for it, retaining it as a power base during two unsuccessful bids for the Presidency.

Amongst many initiatives as Mayor, he collaborated with President Francois Mitterrand in restoring several national buildings for the 1989 Bicentennial of the French Revolution; became known for grand entertaining (causing some enduring scandal), and even – very memorably to many citizens and visitors – made enormous progress getting the infamous dog pooh problem under control in the city’s streets.

Chirac was leader of the RPR, successor party to the conservative Gaullists, and also its latest incarnation the UMP, winning election as President of France in 1995.

A “main chance” politician he has not been known as a visionary.

The economy has been sluggish during his second term; sore relations over immigration have continued; when he asked French voters to support further integration with the European Union at a referendum, they resoundingly voted “non“.

He was a leader in European moves to restrain the Anglo-American (and Australian) drive to invade Iraq and held France out of the war. He was an advocate for a French (nuclear) Pacific and as a plain speaker once dismissed “British” ways as “perfidious Albion”.

Always called “brave” by commentators and charming when working a crowd, he is not being booed off the stage, but at 74 is going out with poor showings in the opinion polls.

By common consent, Jacques Chirac had no chance of standing again successfully for President if he had wanted to.

He is seen as having delayed his announcement on that long enough to hurt his own party’s candidate for the Presidential elections on 22.4.07, Nicolas Sarkhozy, who’s been eclipsing him as a pre-eminent conservative figure (e.g. criticism in the influential daily Le Monde).

Even as he was saying “au revoir“, Chirac still did not come up with any endorsements for a successor, recommending only a vote against the anti-immigrant, nationalist extreme right.

As for those who are looking for a political future, another opinion poll has confirmed the closeness of the contest for the presidency this time.

Three candidates, Sarkhozy, the Socialist Party’s Segolene Royal, and Francois Bayrou, candidate from the centre-right UDF party, have been getting about a quarter of all votes each.

Bayrou is a prominent political figure with a long history of party and government appointments; his party has spent most of its history in coalition with the Gaullists, and had one President, Giscard; his strong position in opinion polls has indicated evident voter dissatisfaction with the two main parties – and so possible interest in this “good talker” with a slightly more “neutral” leadership image.

Reference: “M. Chirac devrait annoncer qu’il ne se representra pas la semaine du 12 mars” (Mr Chirac is set to announce he won’t stand, week beginning 12 March); Le Monde, Paris, 6.3.07, p11