Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chirac Surrenders

Reuters - French President Jacques Chirac announced on Sunday he would not seek re-election next month, bowing out of frontline politics after a 45-year career that consisted of symbolic gestures as much as concrete policies.

Chirac has served as president since 1995 and his widely expected decision to stand aside marks the end of an era for France, clearing the way for a new generation of politicians.

"I will not seek your backing for a new mandate," the 74-year-old said in a televised address to the nation.

Chirac will perhaps be best remembered outside France for his denunciation of U.S. policy in Iraq and his determination to maintain his country's leading role in international affairs.

But on the domestic front he introduced few meaningful reforms and leaves behind a difficult legacy for his successor, with the French economy underachieving and social tensions simmering in deprived suburbs.

Opinion polls have indicated for months that Chirac would have been trounced if he had run for a record third mandate in the April/May election, but he had kept a resolute silence over his plans to avoid being regarded as a lame duck president.

All the three leading contenders to succeed Chirac -- Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling UMP party, Socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou -- are in their 50s and all have pledged to break with the politics of the past 25 years.