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Segolene Royal, Future Madame La Presidente?
After Chile and Germany, France may turn to a woman to lead the country
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-23 17:39 (KST)   
Segolene Royal heads the polls in the race for France's top job

The prospect of Monsieur Francois Hollande, the current head of the French Socialist Party, becoming the next resident of the Presidential Elysees Palace after the May 2007 elections has become increasingly plausible lately.

Only it would not be as the next French president but rather as the male equivalent of the First Lady. No term for this position has yet been found because no woman has ever held France셲 top position.

Francois Hollande셲 private-life partner, Segolene Royal, could be France셲 first female president. At age 52, Madame Royal is a top member of the Parti Socialiste, President of the Poitou-Charentes regional Council, member of the French Parliament for the Deux-Sevres district since 1988, and several times member of the government, as Minister for Environment in 1992, Deputy Minister for Education in 2000, and Deputy Minister for family, childhood, and the handicapped in 2001.

Yet until 2004, Segolene Royal was just another political figure from the opposing center-left party. In fact, she was not even the most prominent female politician from her own camp.

Other figures such as Martine Aubry, current mayor of Lille and architect of the 35-hour work week bill, and Elisabeth Guigou, who was successively Minister for Justice and Minister for Labor under the Jospin government, could have relied on their more impressive political credentials to take Royal셲 place in the spotlight.

A November 2003 popularity poll on the website l섾nternaute - le Journal des femmes placed Segolene Royal in third position, behind Michele Alliot Marie, the current conservative Defense Minister, and Martine Aubry.

The 2004 local elections were the first turning point in Madame Royal셲 rise to political prominence. Growing discontent over the actions of the center-right government led to an enormous victory for the left, which grabbed the majority in 21 out of the 22 regional councils.

The most symbolic of this victory was Royal셲 in the Poitou-Charentes region, where she became President of the Council, after an electoral battle she fought in the political homeland of then Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The second turning point came in September 2005. During an interview with the French weekly Paris Match, Royal hinted that she might consider running for the coming presidential elections, provoking three kinds of reaction. Her announcement went unnoticed or ignored within the ruling conservative camp. It was disregarded and often mocked by most major figures of Royal셲 own party. They were confident that her ambitions were the least threatening of all their party셲 contenders for the position of official candidate.

Indeed, Royal does not benefit from a support network within the party, unlike all other prominent contenders, whose clout and influence have them often referred to as 쐔he elephants of the socialist party.

Some of Royal셲 fellow party members went so far as to venture into some sexist reactions. Notably the former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius publicly wondered who in the Hollande - Royal family would look after their four children, and the former Minister for Culture Jack Lang said the presidential elections were not a 쐀eauty contest.

The third reaction, that of the public셲 opinion, is reflected in the opinion polls that were conducted and published since Segolene Royal셲 announcement. All of them show that Royal is the most favored left-wing candidate and that her popularity is gaining momentum. A recent poll gave her a four-point lead against Nicolas Sarkozy, the major contender of the conservative camp, in the second round of the presidential elections.

Will Segolene Royal be the first female President of France?

From the experience of past presidential elections, the odds are against her: Giscard d섷staing in 1980, Barre in 1987, Balladur in 1994, Jospin in 2001 all had the favor of the polls one year ahead of the elections, and all lost, following dramatic developments occurring a few months, not to say weeks, before election day.

Although she has not gone into much detail about what she actually intends to do, Segolene Royal셲 victory in the presidential elections would be the best thing that could happen to France, as it would bring about two fundamental and much needed changes in French political leadership.

The first change would be pragmatism.

Segolene Royal seems to be willing to implement ideas and reforms on the basis of their efficiency, regardless of their ideological background. She has so far proved that she is brave enough to publicly support ideas that are traditionally demonized by the French left to such a point that anyone expressing sympathy for them is usually labeled a traitor to the socialist cause.

These devils bear the name of Blairism or flexibility. Pointing to the fact that during the past decade Blair셲 policy was able to maintain low unemployment and at the same time, massively invest in the health and education sectors, would be stating the obvious elsewhere.

In France, such a statement from a left-wing politician requires a great deal of courage, which Royal demonstrated twice during interviews. Segolene Royal even went so far as to hint that she may reconsider the 35-hour workweek, one of the major achievements of the previous left-wing Jospin government.

The second change would be in the relationship between leaders and the people. Despite all the efforts put in by their spin-doctors, French political leaders have so far failed to depart from an outdated and inefficient top-down relationship with their electors. The cause of this is to be found in the centralization of power in the 17th century.

From this archaic vision of leadership stems the authoritarian handling of the youth jobs law, also known as CPE reform. From this same vision in the heat of the political campaign will come a number of political manifestoes, almost as many as the number of presidential candidates. These will be hastily written in the heat of the electoral campaign with varying contents but one objective in common: to disseminate the leader셲 message to the people, full of convictions, and promises. All these political pledges will add up in a political program, half of which will end up not being implemented when the winner is confronted with the reality of governing a country.

Segolene Royal has taken an opposite path. She has so far been very elusive about her future program as a presidential candidate, and she has been the subject of many criticisms by her opponents for such a lack of content. But her response to advocates of top-down politics came in the form of a website entitled, Desirs d셙venir, (Desires for the future) aimed at enhancing participatory democracy. Segolene Royal is convinced that 쐁itizens, when experiencing a problem or hoping for progress, are the 쐋egitimate experts of the question that is asked.

Apart from hosting various discussion boards on topics such as France in the world, labor, economy, environment and development, Segolene Royal intends to gradually post a digital book on her diagnosis of the country. The first chapter, which is on democratic disorder, is already online, and net users are welcomed to react prior to its actual printing and publishing. How much of the netizens comments and ideas will be taken into account in the printed final version of her diagnosis of the country is yet to be seen.

With one year to go until the French presidential elections, Madame Royal셲 chances of victory depend on her ability to convince voters that her fresh and innovative approach to politics is the result of a genuine conviction, and not just a communication strategy. Most of all, French constituents will need to overcome their reluctance to vote for a woman, which is dictated by an archaic political system excessively dominated by men. Let셲 hope they셪l look towards Chile and Germany to notice that women do know how to rule a country.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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