Ausgabe 48/2006

The Fabulous World of Ségolène France's Female Presidential Candidate Is Building a Political Machine

In the race for the French presidency, the French Socialist Party's successful leading candidate Ségolène Royal is billing herself as a popular political outsider beyond the scope of dogma and hierarchy. But this supposed nonconformist has the backing of a well-oiled political machine.

By in Paris

This isn't the time for Ségolène Royal to be taking a break or a vacation, no matter how well earned. To celebrate her dazzling victory in the battle for the nomination as the French Socialist Party's (PS) presidential candidate and her brief, celebratory address to the nation, Royal spent all of one weekend with friends and family. In her address, the candidate, a bit rashly perhaps, promptly began using the royal "we," saying that "we" would soon welcome her back "into the heart of the socialist project."

Socialist presidential candidate Royal: "Madonna of the opinion polls"

Socialist presidential candidate Royal: "Madonna of the opinion polls"

The woman France-Soir has called "Tsunami Royal" quickly switched back into campaign mode and embarked on a whirlwind tour of the country, beginning with appearances in the Paris region, followed by excursions into the countryside and then a trip abroad to the volatile Middle East, where she was visiting Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories this week. Madame Royal has only one goal in mind. She plans to win the presidential election on April 22, 2007 (and a likely runoff election on May 6), which would mean trouncing her main opponent, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and move into the Elysée Palace as France's first female president.

The path to the presidency has already been marked out in anticipation of a solo performance for the current front-runner. Royal plans to continue her campaign appearances until the end of January as she completes a tour she calls, with a healthy dose of political correctness, a "participatory election campaign." She plans to listen intently to the soul of the people, even in the most remote places, on her very own Tour de France, a tour Madame Royal hopes will fill her political box of tricks with "new ideas." What the candidate calls the "collective intelligence of the people" will eventually translate into her campaign manifesto -- at least if Royal has her way.

The PS candidate doesn't seem to care much that her party already has its own campaign platform. For Ségolène Royal, 53, the platform, a collection of compromises carefully crafted by party leaders over a period of several months, is no bible and certainly "no little red book."

The outsider

She cultivates her distaste for the party machine, despises the stuffiness of a party traditionally dominated by good old boys and ignores the hostile attacks of her restrained chastened competitors. Politically speaking, she doesn't even display much interest in François Hollande, the leader of the PS and her life partner, leaving Hollande with little choice but to publicly express his hope that the "collective strength" of the party will ally itself with Madame's "plan."

It's quite possible that she doesn't even want to align herself too closely with the party rank and file in the first place. So far Royal has carefully cultivated her image as an outsider, an image that has become as much a part of the mother of four as the conservative, white outfit she favors. Indeed, her outfit has become a symbol of her ideological independence and her freedom from dogmatic dead weight. She stands completely alone, a position she neither can nor wishes to change.

But Royal's current persona is nothing but show. The woman Le Monde has called the "Madonna of the opinion polls" may not have the support of all in the PS's old guard, but Royal, who came of age in the party and has been a member for 28 years, is more than just a tough, experienced politician. While eschewing party support, she has developed her very own machine of professional advisors, including media experts, pollsters, image specialists and speechwriters -- a team that has skillfully staged her meteoric rise to power. They call it the System Ségolène. Royal has since expanded her team from an initial core group of hardly more than a dozen friends and former fellow students, which would meet in the Royal family home in Boulogne-Billancourt outside Paris, to a wide-reaching network.

Academics, former politicians and youthful technocrats are the driving force behind the Royal campaign. Her so-called resource personnel consists of more than 250 members, evidence that the term expert is taboo for this champion of "collective intelligence." Trade unionists, industrialists and scientists produce dossiers, background documents and talking points, sometimes at very short notice.


© DER SPIEGEL 48/2006
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