January 3, 2008 4:19 pm

Royal bids to run socialist party

Ségolène Royal, the defeated candidate in last year’s French presidential election, made clear on Thursday her intention of taking control of the opposition socialist party later this year, against the wishes of many of its senior figures.

Ms Royal said she intended to go “all the way” if she succeeded in rallying the socialists behind her vision of a modernised centre-left programme. The party is due to choose a new leader at a special congress later this year.

“This year I intend to complete the task that I began during the presidential election of renewing the left,” she told France 2 television.

Taking over the post of secretary-general of the party would put Ms Royale in a powerful position to secure the socialist nomination for a rematch against President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012.

Ms Royale’s statement of intent was immediately attacked as premature by senior figures in the party.

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, a close ally of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, recently installed as head of the International Monetary Fund, said the “announcement of the dance of presidentiables is not unexpected but is really unwelcome”.

Benoît Hamon, a potential left-wing contender for the leadership, said Ms Royal was “not the most legitimate to embody the renewal and transformation of the socialist party”.

Many socialist heavyweights believe Ms Royal is incapable of improving on what they regard as her weak, intellectually shallow and badly organised campaign for the Elysée last year. But she remains popular with the grassroots.

Social democratic modernisers want a party leader without presidential ambitions to shake up its programme. They are convinced that Mr Strauss-Kahn will lured back from Washington closer to the presidential election.

Ms Royal’s main rival for the leadership is likely to be Bertrand Delanoë, who also considers himself presidential material. But he must first win re-election as mayor Paris in March. By declaring her intentions now, Ms Royal hopes to steal a march on Mr Delanoë.

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