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'Queen of suburbs' takes shock win in Marseille poll


Socialist Senator Samia Ghali, born of Algerian parents and who says her education was “on the streets” of the rough north suburbs of Marseille, has taken the lead to become the party's mayoral candidate in next year’s local elections.


A rising and controversial political figure in France’s troubled second city Marseille took a decisive lead in a key Socialist Party (PS) vote on Sunday, confounding opinion polls and worrying the local party leadership.

Born of Algerian parents, Samia Ghali (pictured left) is PS Senator for Marseille’s restive northern suburbs. Last year, she called for the army to patrol troubled districts in a bid to stem rampant gun crime and the growing dominance of drugs gangs.

On Sunday, she won the first round of a primary election for the PS nomination for next spring’s mayoral election, a position that would give the 45-year-old who says her education was “on the streets” significant power in the port city of 1.5 million people.

Marseille’s current Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, who belongs to the opposition centre-right UMP Party, has been at the helm since 1995.

But his continued tenure is in doubt as the city, which has a high immigrant population, struggles to control endemic violence marked by the use of AK-47 assault rifles in robberies and the “settling of scores” between drugs gangs who control a vast underground economy.


Ghali's victory in Sunday’s first round of the PS primary upset local party leaders, particularly Minister for the Disabled Marie-Arlette Carlotti, who was predicted to take the nomination but came third.

As it became apparent Sunday that Ghali was in the lead, a disappointed Carlotti told reporters the vote had been mired in “irregularities” and called for her campaign funding, limited to 20,000 euros, to be closely scrutinised.

“No one had any idea that there was such a powerful system [of voter manipulation] at work, seemingly with total impunity and in full view,” she said. “Dozens of minibuses were used to ferry voters to polling stations, money changed hands, there were cases of intimidation and all this was achieved with an organisation that I would call paramilitary.”

Carlotti later softened her line and accepted the outcome of the vote, while the body overseeing the election said on Monday that it had not been called on to investigate Ghali.

The second round of the election is due on October 20. Carlotti has called on the PS card-holders to support ally Patrick Mennucci (pictured right), who came second behind Ghali.

‘Queen of the suburbs’

Ghali’s notoriety exploded when she called on the army to step in to pacify the bleak suburbs at the heart of her senatorial constituency.

She called the move “a cry for help” on behalf of residents fed up with their neighbourhoods becoming “drugs supermarkets” run by the ruthless gangs.

Since then, the so-called “Queen of the Suburbs”, who is referred to locally by her first name “Samia”, has published a biography in which she details an “upbringing in poverty that was paradoxically very happy”.

In her book she said she “had her education on the streets” and and that she had inherited “tenacity” from her parents. “To survive,” she wrote, “you have to know how to use your fists”.

On Sunday night she pledged, if she became mayor, to ensure everyone in the city had access to affordable housing, and to embark on a public transport project that would link the city’s southern coastal districts with the isolated northern suburbs.

She firmly denied any there were any irregularities in Sunday’s vote, or that she had arranged transport to get supporters to the ballot boxes.

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