Socialist party chief to vie for presidential nomination
The leader of France’s opposition Socialists, Martine Aubry, announced her intention to run in her party's October primaries as the Socialists gear up to challenge an increasingly unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential race.
REUTERS - Veteran leftist Martine Aubry declared on Tuesday she would run for the opposition Socialist Party in France's 2012 presidential election, as the left reworks its battleplan after losing its star candidate.
Aubry, the Socialist Party leader and a former labour minister who was behind the cutting of the French working week to 35 hours, told supporters in the northern city of Lille, where she is mayor, that she wanted to boost France's competitiveness while also protecting low-income citizens.
Aubry will compete with ex-party leader Francois Hollande, ranked ahead of her in opinion polls, in a selection contest that will wind up in October, six months before the election.
Both candidates represent an old-style left, in contrast with the centrist former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was the party's top hope for 2012 until his shock arrest in May for allegedly trying to rape a New York hotel maid.
However Aubry could stick more closely to the left's stated programme of creating subsidised jobs, revisiting a 2010 pension reform and scrapping tax breaks than Hollande, who is painting himself as a modern thinker and a touch more centrist.
In a speech to announce her election bid, Aubry took a swipe at conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is resented by many voters for what they see as a hyperactive style and for passing measures to ease taxes on the wealthy.
"Behind what looks today like energy, but could be seen as restlessness, the reality is unfair policies that solely benefit the most privileged. It is time that changed," Aubry said.
Aubry is a no-frills politician, even describing herself as "a fuddy-duddy", who would offer a stark alternative to the "bling bling" of Sarkozy, who loves to be at the centre of the world stage and whose wife Carla Bruni is a former supermodel.
Regarded as lacking in personal ambition to be president, Aubry had been set to back Strauss-Kahn as the party's candidate but came under pressure to throw in her own hat after his spectacular fall from grace last month.
Left determined to oust Sarkozy
With Sarkozy running in second and third place in different opinion polls for the election, and his popularity ratings stuck at around 30 percent, the Socialists are determined to win power after three terms in opposition.
While Strauss-Kahn's exit has thrown the left into turmoil, it has only bumped up Sarkozy by a few points in the polls, with Hollande pegged as the left's new frontrunner.
Sarkozy -- expected to announce later this year that he will run for re-election -- preempted Aubry's speech on Monday, warning that the left's ideas, such as possibly rowing back on his raising of the retirement age and blocking constitutional limits on the deficit, would cause France's debt to "explode".
Socialist deputy Pierre Moscovici, a strong supporter of Strauss-Kahn's centre-leftist ideas, warned in response that the left must not let itself be associated with bloated deficits.
"If (the left) wins the election next year, it must hold to France's commitments over public finances," he told the daily Les Echos.
Aubry's chief challenge may be how to mark out a clear difference with her rival, with former backers of Strauss-Kahn divided over whether to support her or Hollande.
Arnaud Montebourg, a distant rival in the primary contest, remarked to the daily Liberation in May that: "The candidacies of Francois Hollande and Martine Aubry are absolutely legitimate, absolutely logical -- and absolutely identical."