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Political dinosaurs roaming France

chirac jospin
The fact that Jospin (left) and Chirac share power appears to have reduced voter interest in their bids for president  

By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley

MONTPEYROUX, France (CNN) -- Would-be leaders insist they want to feel the heartbeat of their countries.

But do the 17 politicians now jostling to become the next president of France really reflect, as they would aspire to, the instincts of a village like Montpeyroux, at the very core of the French countryside?

Do they share anything of the view of the world from Montpeyroux's windows? Local Mayor Marcel Astruc warns that this is an election which is bypassing the people.

"They do not understand what is going on. They feel that nothing is going to change, that there isn't any difference between (the candidates)," says Astruc.

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Part of the trouble, say the locals, is that the two leading candidates -- current President Jacques Chirac, a conservative, and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a Socialist -- have been forced to share power, or to "cohabit" as the French put it delicately, despite their different views.

So whom do you blame for what is wrong?

"In the past, presidential elections were a lot more important, and I think this one isn't because the president and the prime minister are governing together," says Astruc.

At party headquarters in Paris, backers of the key figures also see the problem.

"The ideological positions are not as strong as before, so I can understand that some voters say finally it's almost the same," says Jospin campaign spokesman Dominic Troscan.

The Chirac camp also concedes public disillusion with politics.

"Nobody is happy, and there is a temptation to put a blank ballot or to make a vote rejecting the system for the extreme left or the extreme right," says Chirac campaign spokesman Henry Plagnol.

That means possible votes for Jean Marie le Pen of the National Front or Arlette Laguiller of the Workers Struggle Party -- but they too risk boring the voters. They've both been running for president as long as people can remember.

With so many dinosaurs roaming the political scene, leading commentator Dominique Moisi insists it is a contest between yesterday's man, Chirac, and yesterday's program put forward by Jospin -- in other words, a contest to be decided by negatives.

"By the end of the day the decision will be made on which face do you want the least to see on your TV screen for the next five years," says Moisi.

Back in Montpeyroux, the presidential contest counts for little compared with discussions about the farmer's weather. Voters are not exactly thrilled so far by their choice.

With so many contestants squeezing into the centre ground, French electors complain that whoever wins this election, the political landscape is likely to remain unchanged -- much like the hills around the Puy de Dome in the very heart of France.

Many of those hills are extinct volcanoes. And with many of the presidential candidates firmly in the veteran class, the worry is that the same term applies to them.




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