Dumping Chirac

Telegraph Young guns conspire to get rid of Chirac

President Jacques Chirac’s ambition to run for a third term as president, when he will be 74, has provoked a crisis at the heart of his government and party which has now flared spectacularly into the open. A younger generation, led by Nicolas Sarkozy, the finance minister, is flagrantly conspiring to end Mr Chirac’s political career on their timetable rather than his, ahead of the 2007 presidential election. Rebels say they are tired of his moderation and cronyism and that France desperately needs more dynamic leadership.

In a once unthinkable display of lese-majeste, supporters of Mr Sarkozy booed the president during the Bastille Day garden party at the Élysée Palace after Mr Chirac criticised his finance minister’s ambition and manoeuvring in his annual televised interview.

The newspapers have been packed for several days with reports from meetings of loyalists on both sides. Mr Chirac’s old guard have been rallied for one last stand for their man, while Mr Sarkozy’s gunslingers are taking every opportunity to paint the president as well past his prime.

The latest twist came yesterday when Alain Juppé, the former prime minister and Mr Chirac’s chosen heir, resigned from the presidency of the party. He had announced his resignation months ago, following his conviction for abusing public funds while he served Mr Chirac when the president was mayor of Paris. His conviction bars him from public office for 10 years, ruling him out of standing for the presidency at the next election.

It is up to Mr Sarkzoy, 49, who is wildly popular among his party’s grassroots, whether he wants the party presidency. It would give him control of a rich and powerful electoral machine as well as extensive powers of patronage. Mr Chirac has said he will not allow any minister to hold a post outside government, despite the fact that he spent most of his career doing that. In his Bastille Day interview, he said that if any of his ministers won the UMP presidency, “they will resign immediately or I will immediately sack them”.

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Last night, the minister addressed a UMP rally in La Baule on the Atlantic coast. His supporters say winning control of the party created by Mr Chirac, then turning it against him, would be his greatest act of revenge.

French politics is truly bizarre.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.