- Title: France's Juppe struggles to fire up voters as race tightens
- Date: 16th November 2016
- Summary: CHATEAURENARD, FRANCE (FILE - AUGUST 25, 2016) (REUTERS) ***WARNING CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY*** FORMER FRENCH PRESIDENT AND JUPPE'S CAMPAIGN RIVAL, NICOLAS SARKOZY, WALKING THROUGH CROWDS AT CAMPAIGN MEETING
- Embargoed: 1st December 2016 13:28
- Keywords: Juppe presidential election Bordeaux primary France
- Location: BORDEAUX, PARIS, CHATOU, CHATEAURENARD AND PESSAC, FRANCE / MOSCOW, RUSSIA
- City: BORDEAUX, PARIS, CHATOU, CHATEAURENARD AND PESSAC, FRANCE / MOSCOW, RUSSIA
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00758OYMVB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS MATERIAL WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY 4:3
At a rally on Alain Juppe's home ground in Bordeaux last Wednesday (November 9), a group of supporters tried to get the crowd clapping and chanting before the conservative presidential hopeful took to the stage, with limited success.
And during the meeting, there was nothing to match the electric atmosphere at rallies for former president Nicolas Sarkozy, Juppe's rival to be the French conservatives' candidate in next year's presidential election.
The scene in the town where Juppe has been mayor for most of the past 20 years showed the challenge he faces ahead of Sunday's voting for the Republican party nomination: can he fire up enough voters to back him?
He has spent the campaign carefully cultivating a unifying image, saying that he has what it takes to overcome divisions in his party and across the country.
"I'm saying no to divisions, I'm saying no to demagogy which pits the French people against each other -- the elites against the people -- it leads nowhere, except maybe to obstructions which would be even more dangerous. My objective, my ambition, my dream is to reconcile the two Frances, by listening, through dialogue, graciously and by telling the truth," he told the rally.
The former prime minister, 71, has been ahead in opinion polls for months, seen as a safe bet in a primary election whose winner has a good chance of becoming president next year.
Shoppers in the streets of the city he has run for the better part of two decades certainly seemed to give him a glowing report.
Under Juppe, a refurbished Bordeaux has attracted tourists and new residents. Old buildings have been cleaned up, a tram network built and the Garonne river quays opened to the public.
In 2007, half of the city was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. People from Bordeaux can't seem to find enough words to praise his action as a mayor. He is a builder, a transformer, they say.
"I love the presence he has, I love the man, but above all I love what he has done with Bordeaux. I came to Bordeaux a long, long time ago -- I am 43 -- so it was 30 years ago, and it wasn't a very pretty city, not a very attractive one, and now I am proud of my city and proud to be from Bordeaux," resident Maryline Coudouin said.
Local businesses say the beauty is more than skin deep.
Immersion is a company specialising in 3D simulations and virtual reality based in the city and founder Christophe Chartier said that contrary to the accusations of his opponents, the mayor is a listener who has helped businesses grow in the region.
"The city does shine, it sparkles, but there is also a real economic space that has been created. Real action has been taken, and not only with the entrepreneurs' council, and there is a real desire through the French Tech network, to help all local companies grow, which makes the area attractive to new talent," he said.
But among the chorus of praise, there are dissenting voices.
Opposition city councillor Matthieu Rouveyre of the Socialist party describes Juppe as an authoritarian man, unwilling to negotiate with his critics, rejecting the candidate's self-professed prowess for bringing people together.
"I don't see what could make him flexible on some of his views. I don't see what could make Alain Juppe compromise today because he's got nothing left to lose, and because of his personality -- the one we experienced when he was prime minister -- and even though a real effort has been made to touch up his image he's still the same Alain Juppe of 1995," he said.
Appointed prime minister by Jacques Chirac in 1995, Juppe was behind a government reform of the welfare state which brought thousands into the streets in protest and paralysed the country with weeks of strikes.
Over the years, Juppe's popularity has recovered and polls show him consistently ahead in the primary contest.
But the race is tightening in its final days, with one survey showing Juppe losing to another former prime minister, Francois Fillon, who has unexpectedly gained momentum.
Polls show the bigger the turnout the better are Juppe's chances in the primaries. Party managers are working furiously to get the vote out.
"He knows full well that if he does not open up to centrist voters in the primary, if he just counts on the hardcore supporters of Les Republicains, Nicolas Sarkozy will be best placed to take advantage. The more limited the number of people voting is, potentially fewer than two million people, the more danger Alain Juppe is in. The more open the electorate is, around three million people, the more likely he is to win. So consensus is compulsory," political expert Jean Petaux from the Bordeaux political sciences' institute said.
But Donald Trump's surprise U.S. election win against Hillary Clinton, a candidate in many ways similar to Juppe, has given hope to the French politician's opponents, amid fears that polling is failing to give the full picture.
Juppe's long career, serving as foreign minister and defence minister as well as being a close collaborator with Chirac, means he is the ultimate political insider, with all the advantages and baggage that brings.
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