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France

Odds against conservative challenger as Paris vote looms

© FRANCE 24

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2014-03-21

Trailing her Socialist rival in the polls, France’s main conservative candidate to become mayor of Paris addressed a subdued meeting in the city’s 14th arrondissement (district) on Thursday, where she is also standing to become mayor.

With three days to go before nationwide local elections, the odds are stacked against Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, known in France by her initials NKM.

Environment minister under conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy, NKM, 40, is the youthful, attractive and vigorous face of France’s conservative opposition UMP party, which saw her as its best hope to recapture the French capital after 13 years of Socialist rule.

But she is lagging behind her Socialist rival Anne Hidalgo, deputy to outgoing Paris mayor Betrand Delanoë since 2001, for Paris’ top job.

An IFOP poll for weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche on Thursday gave 54-year-old Hidalgo a four-point lead in overall popular support in the inevitable second round on March 30 (neither is tipped to secure an outright victory on Sunday).

And in Paris’ 14th arrondissement the poll results are even worse, with NKM trailing a whole 10 points behind little-known Socialist candidate Carine Petit, according to a CSA survey.

The hare and the tortoise

NKM has been campaigning frenetically in recent months in a bid to close the gap with Hidalgo, who benefits from 13 years’ experience at city hall and the transformative policies of outgoing incumbent Bertrand Delanoë.

Hidalgo’s approach has been markedly more downbeat, leading French news magazine L’Express to describe the race as a contest between “The Tortoise and the Hare”.

The resigned atmosphere at the community sports hall where NKM addressed her overwhelmingly ageing audience – punctuated by a handful of youthful activists in loud “NKM” T-shirts – may indicate the hare is running out of breath as the finish line approaches.

Two days earlier, Hidalgo addressed an audience at the same venue, which one NKM supporter on Thursday sniffily described as “grim”.

The difference was marked. Hidalgo’s confident delivery was met with loud enthusiasm as she summed up the achievements of the last 13 years, confidently promising more of the same.

On Thursday NKM told the audience of some 300 locals of her love for the 14th arrondissement, her concern for local shopkeepers and her determination to inject a renewed sense of community into the district.

One 14th arrondissement resident, a pensioner who gave her name only as Janine, told FRANCE 24 that NKM’s “dynamism and sincerity” would win through.

But asked whether she would bet money on NKM becoming mayor of Paris, she replied: “Frankly, she’s more likely to win here in the 14th.”

Date created : 2014-03-20

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