Premier Jacques Chirac, a 55-year-old conservative politician of long strides and bounding energy, announced in a brief, nationally televised talk Saturday that he is a candidate for the presidency of France. The announcement made him the first major politician to enter the April 24 elections.
Insisting that his government had succeeded in "many domains" during its 22 months in office, Chirac said that "conditions are now ripe for moving through a new stage." He said he will outline in the weeks ahead his program "of rallying together, of effort, of solidarity and of ambition, to serve the French people and to serve France."
Then, in what amounted to his first campaign act, Chirac rushed to a Paris stadium to watch France defeat Britain 10-9 in a rugby match.
A far more difficult campaign lies ahead for Chirac. Just a few hours before his announcement, the Paris newspaper Liberation reached newsstands with a poll showing that Chirac would probably fail to survive the first round of voting April 24 and that, even if he did survive, would be beaten by President Francois Mitterrand in the runoff balloting two weeks later.
Mitterrand Leads in Poll
According to the poll, which paralleled the results of many other recent polls, Mitterrand, a Socialist, would receive 41% of the vote in the first round; former Premier Raymond Barre, a conservative, would receive 25%, and Chirac would receive 18.5%. Under the French system, a runoff is held between the two top vote-getters if no one receives a majority in the first round.
The 71-year-old Mitterrand, however, has not made it clear yet whether he intends to run for reelection to another seven-year term. Chirac's chances might change considerably if Mitterrand stays out of the race.
One of the great problems for Chirac has been a confusion of identity. As the leader of the Gaullist party, the Rally for the Republic, he has sometimes acted as if he thought that the best way to win election as president was to rally all right-wing votes in France behind him. At other times, he has acted as if he thought of himself as a consensus leader attracting votes from the center.
Jean-Marie Colombiani, a respected political analyst for the French newspaper Le Monde, wrote a few weeks ago that, after almost two years as premier, Chirac "is still not credited with the capacity to exercise a presidential function."
"His muddled image," Colombiani went on, "is of a man more skilled at sidestepping than at walking straight. In fact, since March 16, 1986, (when a conservative victory in French legislative elections gave him the premiership), he has tried everything."
Moreover, the unprecedented system of "cohabitation" between a leftist president and a rightist premier has benefited Mitterrand far more than Chirac. Mitterrand, standing above the political fray, has struck a chord with voters while Chirac, sometimes strident and always involved in the day-to-day politics of governing, has often lost support.