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The man between Le Pen and the Presidency

01:00 Mon 29th Apr 2002 |

On the eve of the French Presidential election that has shocked the world, a brief portrait of the man who stands between Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Elysee Palace. France votes on May 5 to decide whether Jacques Chirac should stay in power.

Jacques Chirac was born in Paris on November 29, 1932. A lifelong� politician, he was first appointed Prime Minister of France on 27 May, 1974. That government lasted until 1976. He's also been the Mayor of Paris since 1977, a member of the European Parliament (1979-80), Prime Minister again (1986-88) and, since 1995, the President of the French Republic.

He's been pretty busy then
He's also been a deputy in the French parliament, treasurer of the Claude Pompidou Foundation and anything from leading-light to outright leader of political groupings such as the UDR and RPR - the Rally for the Republic, which remains his powerbase.

Real presidential material.
That's not the half of it. We haven't even mentioned his presidency of AIMF - the International Association of Mayors and Leaders of Wholly or Partially French-speaking Capital Cities and Metropolitan Areas. No wonder the French keep voting for him.

He's been around forever.
Chirac became Prime Minister of France when Harold Wilson was in No.10 Downing Street, Don Revie was manager of Leeds United, and - ironically - 'You Make Me Feel Brand New' by The Stylistics was in the charts. Porridge and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum were the new shows thrilling TV audiences.

Put it this way. When Chirac first came to power, Tony Blair was still a long-haired student at Oxford singing in a rock band.

Aren't there rumours about his dealings as Mayor of Paris
A serving president enjoys immunity from prosecution, which suits Chirac as he has been personally implicated in illegal party fundraising enterprises. French TV even has a character called Chirac Supermenteur (Chirac the Super Liar) who uses superhuman powers to avoid questions about his allegedly corrupt past.

Listen to Le Pen: 'What (Chirac) wants essentially is five more years of impunity... he's hoping for a nice little amnesty law to wipe out all the judicial past that could form the basis of an investigation'.

What does Chirac stand for
That's where it starts to get tricky. Before Le Pen shocked everyone (except himself) by coming second in the first round, coverage of this election had boiled down to the fact that there was no difference between the main canndidates - Chirac of the right and Jospin of the left.

I'm sure the French were more poetic in describing that
L'Express published an article called A la recherche du clivage perdu ('In search of the lost cleavage') which was a peculiarly Gallic�attempt to find out if there was any space between the policies of the two candidates. They couldn't find many.

Policies. I want policies.
Chirac would probably rather you didn't ask. Before the Le Pen shock, the planks of his campaign were 'zero tolerance' of� crime and the question of France's place in Europe and the world. Now his No.1 policy would appear to be 'beat Le Pen'.

Not much to get enthusiastic about.
If Chirac wins the Presidential run-off (and all indications are that he will, though this is a campaign full of surprises) he will be voted in by many of the people who voted against him in the first round.

81.33 percent of people who bothered to vote in the first round voted for someone else; now he hopes to win the second round by that kind of majority.

Chirac or Le Pen. It's hardly much of a choice.
Maybe next time a new name will offer a real alternative. A good pointer to the future will take place after the Presidential election on 5 May, which everyone expects Chirac to win.

Legislative elections in June will giive a chance for voters to say 'Au revoir!' to the old-style political groupings and maybe usher in some fresh faces.

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