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France sets 2002 election dates

Chirac's chances of reelection were boosted when highest court ruled a sitting president could not be investigated for sleaze allegations
Chirac's chances of reelection were boosted when highest court ruled a sitting president could not be investigated for sleaze allegations  

PARIS, France -- France has announced the four Sundays early next year when voters will choose their president and national parliament for the next five years.

Gaullist President Jacques Chirac and his Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, running level in opinion polls and widely expected to contest the right to occupy the Elysee Palace, set April 21 and May 5 as dates for the two-round presidential vote.

They also agreed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that parliamentary elections would be held a month later on June 9 and 16.

While the poll dates are fixed, all else is up for grabs in a race that could hand the left or right a clear victory, ending the awkward power-sharing arrangement of Chirac and Jospin.

Ahead of the elections, both must address the potential disruptions of January's launch of the euro single currency, the wavering economy and the after-effects of September 11.

Chirac has yet to announce his bid for reelection while Jospin, who lost to the president in 1995, has said he will probably be a candidate but will confirm this early next year.

No serving prime minister has ousted an incumbent president, and the onus is squarely on Jospin, who came to power unexpectedly in early elections called by Chirac in 1997, to convince French voters that he has the right qualities.

Other challengers

Jospin, a 64-year-old former economics professor has insisted he be judged on his record, primarily his boast of bringing dole queues down to 18-year lows.

While flagship policies like the launch of the 35-hour week and limited devolution for the unruly island of Corsica have run into difficulties, Socialist party aides are convinced there is still enough of a "feel-good" factor to see them home.

Chirac, 69, saw his reelection chances boosted in October when France's highest court ruled that as a sitting president he could not face a sleaze investigation during his reign as Paris mayor in the 1980s and early 1990s.

While Chirac and Jospin stand out above all other candidates, both the presidential and parliamentary votes could yet be influenced by a host of lesser challengers.

Of Jospin's current coalition partners, the Communists are struggling to stem haemorrhaging support, while the ecologist Greens are still riven by internal rivalries.

Some pundits see Jospin's maverick former interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, stealing supporters from both left and right, with his "strong state" Republican rhetoric.

Others say veteran far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen -- yet to launch his candicacy but still credited with 10 percent of the vote -- may yet emerge as the "Third Man" with his virulent anti-immigrant, anti-euro stance.


• France faces winter of discontent
December 12, 2001
• Chirac avoids scandal hearings
October 10, 2001

• French presidency
• French prime minister

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