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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les illusions de Panafieu s’effritent à Paris

by Grégory Marin

The Electoral Campaign in Paris: The Right-Wing Challenger’s Illusions Are Crumbling Away

Translated Friday 7 March 2008, by Isabelle Métral

The capital seen through the magnifying glass: Bertrand Delanoë, the incumbent socialist mayor, makes the most of his track record and integrates the proposals of his allies and fellow candidates. Against the pink tidal wave announced countrywide, the Right pins its hopes on that victory alone: if only it could win Paris over from the Socialist-Communist-Green coalition that won the previous 2001 elections, that at least would be a signal symbolic victory for the ambitious right after seven years of leftist rule under Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

The right wants to put the town back in its right place: except for the last mandate, the capital has always been ruled by the right ever since the first municipal election was held in March 1977, first by Jacques Chirac, from 1977 till 1995, then by Jean Tibéri, from 1995 till 2001. The majority right-wing party has invested an heir to the RPR, the Rally for the Republic, the former right-wing ruling party that the two former mayors embodied. Françoise de Panafieu, who heads the list (she was second in command under Tibéri) finds it difficult to impose herself in the debate.

The Right in want of projects

Known all over the capital as the socialist mayor’s chief challenger, Françoise de Panafieu tried to restore her political image like many right-wing candidates all over France by down-playing her UMP label. Though she sat on the City Council almost continuously from 1979 onwards - she was in charge of schools and culture under Chirac, and of parks under Tibéri – it is in the former RPR politician’s interest to sweep the Right’s track record under the carpet, over which she could in part be called to account. She has left behind the image of the “guinea-fowl on wheels” [1]: the heir of the Wendel family, the ironmasters of Lorraine in the East of France, has turned into the Right’s Iron Lady. But in Paris, where her camp has ruled unchallenged for the single political purpose of perpetuating its rule, the lack of alternative projects to those of the left is making itself felt. To cover up the deficit, Françoise de Panafieu tries to bid up on her chief opponent’s main projects: the future City manager, as she likes to present herself, points out “the failure” of the incumbent team as concerns the housing question and demands “42,000 thousand new flats", when Delanoë’s team is planning to build 40,000 more. But how can lady be trusted when she is heir to Tibéri’s notoriously clientelist system?

Today, Françoise de Panafieu, who considers that “the closer the election gets, the more obvious it is to the electorate that this is a local election,” has really run out of arguments. She just cannot meet her electors’ aspirations, notably as concerns purchasing power. To show how low she can stoop, a fortnight ago, she was seen in the company of UMP Paris candidates, sporting a blue pinafore and holding a broom in her hand, to launch a “Keep Paris Clean campaign” in favour of a new fast track cleaning department. “A gutter-campaign”, is what Anne Hidalgo, Delanoë’s campaign spokesperson dubs it. According to Françoise de Panafieu, “the people of Paris have never seen the capital so dirty”. Does she remember that Jacques Chirac in his time had already set up “an emergency task force”, the famous “motorbike pooper scoopers”?

To try and differentiate herself from the “washout [2] Delanoë, she was tempted to tack to the Right and last week accepted François Fillon the prime minister’s accolade. That put balm on the running sores of the candidate as she has fallen way behind her opponent in all opinion polls. “The people of Paris hate nothing more than that election results should be spelt in advance,” the prime minister declared. The campaign being difficult enough as it is, the leader of the UMP team did not go so far as to ask Nicolas Sarkozy to come and manifest his support. That the president’s popularity ratings have plummeted certainly bears out the prediction that the Right is going to take a bashing, but Françoise de Panafieu has another reason for not wanting to be seen in Sarkozy’s company: on the question of the Greater Paris, he gave her the most offensive snub by declaring to the satiric weekly le Canard Enchaîné in late January: “It’s a snap but she lets every opportunity slip by.”

Bertrand Delanoë certainly seizes every opportunity to make the most of his record. Encouraged by his communist partners, he defends his achievements in the sectors of public health as well as social housing. A great favourite in the polls, he has also made clever use of popular key issues, like the environment and quality of life. In this respect, he pips his opponents at the post, both the UMP that gives priority to cars, and also the Greens “to whom these themes traditionally belong” and who, if they set off separately on their own (“to prove they exist”, ironically comments an associate of the socialist team) will most probably rally for the second round.” What about his veiled appeals to the centrists who hunt on the same ground? A little decoying, no more. For if the prospect of luring the centrist electorate is tempting enough, the prospect of an accord to let former presidential candidate François Bayrou’s party run a few arrondissements simply “makes no sense at all”.

The communists are sure of making their weight felt.

It is indeed impossible for Delanoë to change tack completely without running the risk of offending the electors that want a truly leftist policy. Although negotiations were difficult, the communists, who are the socialists’ traditional partners, would not have fully committed themselves to participating in the list if they were not sure of making their influence felt on the platform, as has been the case in the past. To stand by the socialist majority does not mean giving up their own identity. “A free union involves free minds”, Ian Brossat, the young spokesman for the communists in the campaign, likes saying. Whether on the issue of housing, or the links between Paris and the suburbs that might be strengthened as in the “Paris Metropolis” project, or a public water supplier for the capital, the candidates of the French Communist Party mean to participate in the victory on the 9th and 16th of March, and contribute significantly to the success of the municipal project. They also mean to go farther. For instance, in order to meet the need for public equipments financially, they propose borrowing one billion euros. For the time being, the incumbent mayor “does not take up this demand”, Ian Brossat observes pointedly. But the communist group intends to goad the team on, in a partnership clearly committed to a leftist policy, which Bertrand Delanoë himself vindicates. “There will be no blurring of the distinctions between right and left.” An assertion that he will no doubt make a point of repeating before his electors tomorrow night at the Zenith in Paris.

[1Having broken off with Tibéri’s team, she earned this nickname for arriving once at the National Assembly on rollers.

[2"tocard",The term she used to designate the mayor once before a Canal + TV team. The program was broadcast on February 10th.

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