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French socialists gather amid new sense of optimism

Video by FRANCE 2 , Yuka ROYER

Text by Caroline Delabroy

Latest update : 2010-08-28

As France's right-wing government grapples with cash scandals and sliding poll ratings, Martine Aubry and her French Socialist Party gather at their annual summer retreat feeling confident their exile from power is about to end soon.

France’s Socialist Party leaders are eagerly preparing for a new political season to get underway as the party meets for its annual summer retreat in the northern city of La Rochelle. For the first time in several years, the party is brimming with optimism. If the recent “Liberation” newspaper headline, “A Desire for the Left,” is any indication, the political ground should be well fertilized for a left-wing revival in France. 

The Socialists appear eager to capitalize on what has been a dismal summer for President Nicolas Sarkozy and his centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party. From the ongoing L’Oreal cash scandal to the killing of a French hostage at the hands of al Qaeda, one after another, Sarkozy and his ministers have been confronted with controversies that have had a considerable impact on their popularity. On Thursday, Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry slammed the government's controversial and highly-publicised crackdown on Roma migrants, lamenting France's "summer of shame".

France 24's Melissa Bell reports on the French Socialist Party from La Rochelle, France

Nor are the next few weeks likely to offer the government much respite, with trade unions preparing massive industrial action on September 7 to protest against plans to reform France's costly pension system.

With the political winds to their backs, the 4,000 delegates meeting through the weekend at the party conference in La Rochelle have reason to be hopeful. However, a number of key challenges confront the Socialist Party and their left-wing allies if they are to convert the current popular discontent into victory on election day.
 
The political horse race
 
Behind the scenes, a lot of the talk is likely to focus on next year's primary election to select the party's next candidate for the French presidency. All of the leading contenders for the position will be present, with the notable exception of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He was apparently unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict with his role as president of the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Nonetheless, Strauss-Kahn’s presence will no doubt be felt in La Rochelle. 
 
A recent TNS-Sofres Logica poll put Strauss-Kahn atop the list of Socialist candidates to challenge President Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election.  According to the survey of likely voters, Strauss-Kahn would easily defeat the president with 59 percent of the vote. Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry finished in second with 53 percent of the vote, while former presidential nominee Segolene Royal would unlikely beat Sarkozy with just 49 percent of the vote.

While Strauss-Kahn leads the early presidential polls, he has not officially declared his candidacy for the 2012 vote. To date, only two of the Socialist Party’s less prominent figures, former party leader Francois Hollande and
Évry mayor Manuel Valls, have announced their intention to run for the presidency. Most analysts expect the Party’s leading figures to reveal their presidential campaign plans sometime in the coming months.

Preparing for power

Buoyed by recent polls, Socialist party leaders are becoming increasingly upbeat about their chances of occupying the Elysee palace, the French president's residence, for the first time since 1995. One of the party’s political architects, Claude Bartolone, explained that the conference in La Rochelle would give the public a clear idea of what the party plans to do. “Our emphasis will be on social programmes,” he said. In addition to pursuing an aggressive social policy agenda, Bartolone said the party had an even greater task ahead: “French people have had enough of the Sarkozy system and, as such, we owe it to the public to show that we are getting ready for the presidential election.”

 

Date created : 2010-08-27

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