FRENCH politics suddenly looks interesting again. So often appearing to be a boring contest between party machine candidates, the prospect for the presidential campaign next spring is of a fight between the highly attractive and unconventional socialist Segolene Royale and the charismatic centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy; she is 53 and he is 51 and neither of them fits into the conventional mould of their respective parties. After her easy victory on Thursday over her opponents in the socialist primaries Segolene Royal is certain to run but Nicolas Sarkozy still has to overcome opposition from within the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and possibly from President Chirac in person. It is even being hinted that M. Chirac might after all decide to stand again but that seems unlikely given that opinion polls show him to be the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic and his legacy after 12 years is of unemployment and immigrant unrest, stagnation and debt. Segolene Royale's successful challenge to the socialist party's establishment has been remarkable. In a book published earlier this year listing the 15 most prominent presidential contenders she was not even mentioned yet recently she was the only Assembly member mentioned in a vote for France's 50 most admired personalities. She has held junior ministerial posts and is currently head of the PoitouCharentes regional government, but her victory in the primaries has been one of personality rather than of specific policies.
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