The French Socialist Party is consumed by infighting, Martin Arnold reported in Friday's Financial Times of London.  --  (To say that the party "resembles the country's riot-hit suburbs," though is a cheap shot in poor taste.)  --  Instead of concentrating on the country's problems, Arnold writes, the party's chief preoccupation is the fact that "there are almost a dozen potential candidates or people suspected of harboring presidential ambitions," including Lionel Jospin, the former prime minister who withdrew from active political life after his defeat in the 2002 presidential elections, but whose reemergence in the not-too-distant future seems likely....


By Martin Arnold

Financial Times (UK)
November 18, 2005 (subscribers only)

PARIS -- in many ways, France's Socialist party resembles the country's riot-hit suburbs. Violent acts of protest, reflecting years of pent-up frustration, have left a political elite in turmoil.

With presidential elections 18 months away, resolving the party's problems will be a crucial task as members assemble today for a three-day congress in Le Mans.

France's main opposition party has appeared particularly irrelevant during the recent weeks of urban violence, as leaders continued to obsess over their own internal power struggles rather than forcefully criticise the government.

The Socialists have tamely agreed with most of the government's measures since the start of the riots, including the controversial use of a 1955 law, drawn up during the Algerian war of independence that allows the government to impose curfews.

While the riots have raised questions over the center-right government's policy concerning traditionally strong issues for the left -- housing, education and jobs -- the Socialists have seemed incapable of capitalizing.

Instead, the party continues to lick its self-inflicted wounds. Ever since rebels from the party's radical left wing ignored leaders and successfully campaigned last May against Europe's constitutional treaty, senior officials have bickered over the direction of the party.

This infighting has been made worse by the jostling between senior figures lining up to become the Socialist party's candidate for the 2007 presidential elections.

Although the presidential nomination may not be decided until next November, there are almost a dozen potential candidates or people suspected of harboring presidential ambitions.

Among them is Lionel Jospin, the former premier, who is popular among the rank and file despite announcing his retirement from politics after a humiliating loss in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections.

Mathieu Doiret, a political analyst at the polling group CSA, says the Socialists are "too occupied by personal battles."

He says they have "failed to convince even their own supporters that they could do better than the government" on issues such as the recent riots.

A CSA poll published this week in Le Monde showed 52 per cent of people thought the opposition party would have done no better than the government in handling the riots.

More damningly, 59 per cent said the party was failing to play its role as the main opposition party, and 60 per cent thought it stood no chance of winning the 2007 presidential elections.

This week François Hollande, the embattled party secretary, won the majority of a vote by Socialist party members for his motion setting out a political direction for the party. He has suffered the ignominy of seeing his partner and fellow Socialist, Ségolène Royal, rise above him in opinion polls.

While Mr. Hollande is expected to be confirmed as secretary of the party in a vote next Thursday, analysts say he is little more than a caretaker manager who has been discredited by his failure to maintain party unity.

Several leading party figures have supported Mr. Hollande until now, but they are all jostling to replace him next year, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former finance minister, Martine Aubry, a former labor minister, and Jack Lang, the former culture minister. Another potential candidate is Bertrand Delanoë, the highly popular mayor of Paris.

Any consensual party platform drawn up over the weekend will require Mr. Hollande to reach a deal on numerous issues with Laurent Fabius, the former premier, who is the leading figure in the far left camp.

This could be difficult, as many Socialist party militants have not forgiven Mr. Fabius for fronting the No campaign during the constitutional referendum -- an act that many took as betrayal of his own beliefs for the sake of popularity.

But analysts say that if the Socialists are to avoid suffering another defeat, as befell Mr. Jospin in 2002, they need to put their differences aside and start convincing voters they could do better than the government.