Jospin changes tack to win far left


FRANCE: Only 10 days before the first round of the presidential election, the French Prime Minister, Mr Lionel Jospin, has changed his campaign strategy, trying to win back the far left which he alienated by declaring that his "programme was not socialist".

Mr Jospin is also trying to transform himself into a warm, spontaneous and flexible personality - not unlike President Jacques Chirac.

Opinion polls this week showed Mr Jospin's support falling as low as 17.5 per cent in the first round. Although President Chirac may win only 20 per cent on April 21st, the Jospin camp fear a first round lead could give Mr Chirac a decisive advantage on May 5th.

Mr Jospin has watched aghast as the Trotskyist candidate, Ms Arlette Laguiller, seduced nearly 10 per cent of French voters - and refused to throw her votes over to him for the second round.

Taking advice from "social left" old-timers, Mr Jospin changed his campaign slogan from, "An active, safe, strong, modern and just France" to simply "A more just France".

A raft of new proposals are intended to bring the left back to him: "zero homelessness", automatic retirement after 40 years' work, fewer expulsions of immigrants who have served prison sentences, the right to vote at the age of 17.

Meanwhile, Mr Chirac is being careful not to lose the advantage he has won through Mr Jospin's errors.

"When you're in a situation of relative success, above all you have to avoid losing votes," his campaign manager, Mr Antoine Rufenacht, said.

The President wants a "smooth campaign", at least until the first round, so he flees impromptu exchanges with journalists and hammers away at his favourite theme: the rising crime rate under the Jospin government.

Mr Chirac has proved a master at exploiting news events, a tactic his staff call "leading a reactive campaign". When a synagogue burned down in Marseille on Easter weekend, he went to a synagogue in Le Havre to express solidarity with the Jewish community.

After the murder of Guy-Patrice Bégue, a father who protected his son from teenage racketeers in Normandy, Mr Chirac telephoned the family and invited them to the Élysée Palace. "People say Chirac is sympathique," his former Prime Minister, Mr Alain Juppé, explained. "In Greek, that means 'to suffer with'."

Mr Jospin finds it difficult to convey emotion. "We have to put him in a situation where he can be warm, for Lionel is capable of being warm," a socialist official assured Libération.