Support is growing around France’s conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of April’s presidential election with the backing today of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. It comes a day after outgoing president Jacques Chirac said he would not seek a third mandate, an announcement Sarkozy described as dignified: “It’s certainly a page in the life of Jacques Chirac that’s being turned, and in a way, a page in the history of France and also in my own, because, although I haven’t known him since the very start, I have known him for thirty years.”
For now, the President has held back from giving his support to a candidate, but aides have said he will do so as soon as the official list of presidential hopefuls is published next Monday. The other two top candidates in the polls, socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou also described Chirac’s address as dignified. But the leader of the far-right Front National party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had no words of praise: “After 12 years under Chirac,” he said “France is in a catastrophic state.”
On the streets reaction was mixed too: “He will be remembered as a great state leader,” said one man. “Someone who built bridges beyond the borders of Europe, and particularly to Africa.” “It’s the right decision after two mandates,” said another passer-by, “now he must make room for the young generation.” After 40 years in politics, Jacques Chirac will officially hand over power to France’s newly-elected president on May 16.