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These Wrestlers Throw Their Weight Around
Hundreds of fans come out to watch the sixth annual U.S. Sumo Open in Los Angeles. The sport is gaining strength in this country.
By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 10, 2006
Six months ago, Steven Jimenez didn't know much about the ancient Japanese sport of sumo wrestling. Today, he's a budding star, stepping into the ring with the enthusiasm of a seasoned champion.
And on Sunday, the 16-year-old West Covina student got to test his skills against some of the world's best amateur sumo wrestlers at the sixth annual U.S. Sumo Open, which attracted hundreds of cheering aficionados to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The event, sponsored by the California Sumo Assn., offered an array of Japanese cultural touches, including classical dances, taiko drumming, sushi and beer.
The rounds included light-, middle- and heavyweight divisions and a women's competition. The wrestlers, several of whom hold national or world rankings in sumo or other martial arts, represented at least seven nations, including Bulgaria, Mongolia and Norway. The largest contingent was from the United States, a reflection of the sport's growing popularity in this country.
Jimenez, who competes in the heavyweight division, weighs 400 pounds. A football player at Santana Continuation High School in Rowland Heights, he got interested in sumo through martial arts classes. At a previous tournament he won a gold medal.
His skills and popularity have grown to the point that MTV has been following him around for a week to document his progress and he is beginning to pick up sponsors.
"I like impacts and letting all that energy out," Jimenez said of his newfound passion. "My coach gives me videos to study the moves. I would love to go to Japan, though; that's one of my major goals."
It took a little longer for Steven's mother, Hilda Arteaga, to share his enthusiasm.
"At first, I just couldn't watch because I thought it was so violent," she said. "I wanted to jump in there and stop the fight, because I thought he was going to get hurt. But he tells me, 'Mom, it's not a ballet.' "
Although professional sumo wrestlers in Japan have prescribed regimens of training and meals, Steven, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches, keeps his weight up the best way he can.
"I just eat whatever's in front of me," he said.
That can include an entire loaf of bread at breakfast, added his stepfather, Joe Campos.
All the competitors were pretty impressive to Tristan Stephenson, 8, who stood on his last-row seat to get a better view of the dohyo — or ring. It was his first sumo event.
"It's pretty good," said Tristan, a slim youngster from La Mirada who practices karate. "I like the fighting and the techniques."
Suzy Ligon traveled with a contingent from the Antelope Valley Attack Women's Football team, a professional club, to cheer on Hiroko Suzuki, one of its players. Suzuki, from Japan, is a former U.S. Sumo Open gold medalist in the women's middleweight division.
"There are a lot of people here who've been watching sumo for a long time," said Ligon, a former professional women's football player who bought the Attack last year. "Hiroko is only 150 pounds, but she's tough. She plays offensive guard and has to protect the quarterback, so there's a lot of getting in place in the same positions they use in sumo."
Midway through the tournament, Arteaga had taken at least one pain reliever to sooth the pounding in her head. Steven did not reach the quarterfinals in his weight class, but he won a match against a far more experienced opponent.
'To come so far was great, because he was not even expecting to win one," Campos said. "I'm really seeing the potential in him, and we're really proud."
AP - Sun Apr 9, 7:52 AM ET Italian Communist Refoundation party transvestite candidate Vladimir Luxuria, right, (formerly known as Vladimiro Guadagno) casts his ballot in a polling station in Rome, Sunday, April 9, 2006, on the first of a two-day general election. Some 47 million Italians are eligible to vote in the balloting. Conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi faced a strong challenge Sunday from his center-left opponent Romano Prodi in parliamentary elections marked by disenchantment over Italy's stagnant economy and a bitter campaign. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)
Is Italy ready for a communist trans-gender MP?
Candidata transexual elegida secretaria general de la Asociación Mundial de Lesbianas y Gays
miércoles, 5 de abril , 2006 - 08:22:12
(RPP Noticias) La candidata al Congreso de la República por el Movimiento Nueva Izquierda (MNI), Belissa Andía fue electa en la ciudad suiza de Ginebra secretaria general de la Asociación Mundial de Lesbianas y Gays.
Belissa Andía, quien postula al Parlamento nacional con el número 30, asistió a la XXIII Conferencia Mundial de la Asociación Internacional de Lesbianas y Gays, la cual convoca a organizaciones LGTB de los cinco continentes; es ahí donde fue electa integrante del Consejo Mundial, el máximo órgano de gobierno de esa institución.
La elección de Belissa es un reconocimiento al trabajo político que viene realizando a favor de los derechos de las personas trans (travestis, transgéneros y transexuales).
En las próximas horas, Belissa retornará de Ginebra, para asistir a la marcha de cierre de campaña que realizará el MNI en la Plaza Manco Capac.
Candidatos sexys y transexuales en Perú
Cómicos se mofan de la contienda
Univision Online y Agencias
LIMA - Un grupo peculiar de candidatos variopintos que exhibe como carta de presentación ser sexy, transexuales, lesbianas, cocineros, cómicos o cantantes le agregaron pinceladas de color a las elecciones peruanas.
De "jale" a la presidencia
Algunos de estos pintorescos aspirantes recorren entusiastas barrios pobres, calles peligrosas, mercadillos de extrema pobreza, narrando y cantando sus vidas, mientras otros con el cuerpo pintado, en calzoncillos y haciendo bromas intentan ganarse el voto de los indecisos, que suman cerca del 20 por ciento del electorado.
Javier Espinoza, un ingeniero de 37 años, se presenta como el candidato más sexy de los que postulan al sillón de Palacio de Gobierno. Irrumpió el ambiente electoral portando unos guantes de box blanco "para limpiar el país" y con mirada de actor de Hollywood anunció que encabeza el movimiento Progresemos Perú.
Asegura representar a los pequeños empresarios pero señala que en el sector femenino está su "jale" para llegar a la presidencia. Sin embargo, no figura en las encuestas.
Manuel Andía, de 30 años y que se presenta como 'Belissa', es un candidato transexual al Congreso por el Movimiento Nueva Izquierda. Junto con Susel Paredes, 42 años, lesbiana, por el Partido Socialista, aseguran que de llegar al Parlamento abanderarán la lucha contra la discriminación en preferencias sexuales.
'Belissa' junto a otros transexuales y travestis hacen proselitismo en zonas donde abundan los prostíbulos, calles peligrosas por delincuentes, y dejan en su camino una estela de sonrisa coqueta.
El cocinero Pedro Villalta, "Don Pedrito", de 59 años, tenía un programa en la televisión donde bailaba, mostraba unos coloridos zapatos y preparaba menús con poco dinero. Asegura que de llegar al Congreso enseñará a las madres pobres a preparar comida con las tres "b": bueno, bonito y barato.
Abelardo Gutiérrez "Tongo", 48 años, es un cantante de música chicha (un híbrido de música andina y cumbia), de voz aguda, obeso, que hace unos años se hizo famoso con la canción "sufre, peruano sufre", y ahora recorre mercadillos y los cerros para prometer que, de llegar al Congreso, será su representante.
Para llamar la atención usa ropa de colores chillones y también con el cuerpo pintado de blanco con el símbolo de su agrupación: Renacimiento Andino.
Otros como Pablo Villanueva, "Melcochita", un cómico y cantante de salsa, hace campaña bromeando con los transeúntes y prometiendo leyes para los artistas. También está Hilton Córdova que se despojó de la ropa hasta quedar en calzoncillos y caminó por el centro de Lima haciendo campaña. Lo único que logró fue ahuyentar al público y que los niños le griten loco.
A César Pajares del partido de Ollanta Humala, Unión por el Perú, le contaron que se parece al presidente de Venezuela Hugo Chávez. Se puso una boina roja y se proclamó admirador del mandatario venezolano y dijo que quiere hablar como él.
La candidatura que sorprendió fue la de Carlos Manrique, quien estuvo preso ocho años por estafar a miles de personas con una banca informal que recibía ahorros a cambio de altos intereses por encima de la banca legal y que finalmente quebró.
Manrique, 70 años, candidata por Avanza País y promete presentar una ley para que el gobierno le pague a los miles de clientes que perdieron los ahorros que depositaron en su empresa, el Centro Latinoamericano de Asesoría Empresarial (Clae).
Ficha electoral de Perú
La ficha electoral de los comicios del próximo 9 de abril en Perú, en los que se elegirá presidente y dos vicepresidentes, 120 congresistas y quince representantes al Parlamento Andino para el período 2006-2011, es la siguiente:
-Población: 27.219.264 habitantes, de los cuales 6.954.583 viven en Lima.
-Votantes: 16.494.906 (16.037.015 en Perú y 457.891 en el extranjero). Del total de votantes, más de un 30 por ciento se concentra en Lima.
-Mesas de sufragio: 88.439 (85.971 y 2.468 en el extranjero).
-Miembros de mesa: 529.734 (tres titulares y tres suplentes por mesa).
-Horario de votación: de 08.00 a 16.00 horas locales (de 13.00 a 21.00 GMT).
-Seguridad: unos 80.000 policías y 47.000 miembros de las fuerzas armadas velarán por la seguridad de los comicios.
Además, unos 147.000 efectivos de las fuerzas de seguridad votarán por primera vez en Perú, después de que el año pasado se aprobara una modificación constitucional que les otorgó ese derecho.
-Partidos: 23 agrupaciones políticas han sido inscritas para los comicios generales, de las cuales 20 presentan candidatura presidencial. Los candidatos al Congreso son 2.585. Los partidos son los siguientes:
-Unión por el Perú (Ollanta Humala).
-Unidad Nacional (Lourdes Flores).
-Partido Aprista Peruano (Alan García).
-Frente de Centro (Valentín Paniagua).
-Alianza por el futuro (Martha Chávez).
-Concertación Descentralista (Susana Villarán).
-Partido Socialista (Javier Díez Canseco).
-Alianza para el Progreso (Natale Amprimo).
-Reconstrucción Democrática (José Cardó).
-Resurgimiento Peruano (Antero Asto).
-Renacimiento Andino (Ciro Gálvez).
-Avanza País (Ulises Humala).
-Con Fuerza Perú (Peter Koechlin).
-Movimiento Nueva Izquierda (Alberto Moreno).
-Perú Ahora (Luis Guerrero).
-Restauración Nacional (Humberto Lay).
-Justicia Nacional (Jaime Salinas).
-Fuerza Democrática (Alberto Borea).
-Progresemos Perú (Javier Espinoza).
-Y se llama Perú (Ricardo Wong).
-Perú Posible (sin candidato presidencial)
-Frente Indep. Moralizador (sin candidato presidencial)
-Proyecto País (sin candidato presidencial)
The dark side of China's dazzling economic boom
Hype conceals often sordid reality of government corruption and cronyism
- Minxin Pei
Sunday, April 9, 2006
San Francisco Chronicle
The only thing rising faster than China is the hype about China.
China's economic boom has dazzled investors and captivated the world. But beyond the new high-rises and churning factories lie rampant corruption, rising social injustice and an elite preoccupied with its own survival.
In January, the People's Republic of China's gross domestic product exceeded that of Britain and France, making China the world's fourth-largest economy. In December, it was announced that China had replaced the United States as the world's largest exporter of technology products. Many experts predict that the Chinese economy will be second only to the United States by 2020, and possibly surpass it by 2050.
Western investors hail China's strong economic fundamentals -- a high savings rate, huge labor pool and powerful work ethic -- and willingly gloss over its imperfections. Businesspeople talk about China's being simultaneously the world's greatest manufacturer and its greatest market. Private equity firms are scouring the Middle Kingdom for acquisitions. Chinese Internet companies are fetching dot-com-era prices on the Nasdaq. Some of the world's leading financial institutions, including Bank of America, Citibank and HSBC, have bet billions on the country's financial future by acquiring minority stakes in China's state-controlled banks, many of them burdened by huge nonperforming loans. Not to be left out, every global automobile giant has built or is planning new facilities in China, despite a flooded market and plunging profit margins.
And why shouldn't they believe the hype?
The record of China's growth during the past two decades has proved pessimists wrong and optimists not optimistic enough. But before we all start learning Chinese and marveling at the accomplishments of the Chinese Communist Party, we might want to pause. Upon close examination, China's record loses some of its luster.
China's economic performance since 1979 is actually less impressive than that of its East Asian neighbors, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, during comparable periods of growth, especially if adjusted for the quality of growth. Its banking system, which costs Beijing about 30 percent of annual GDP in bailouts, is saddled with nonperforming loans (ones without an expectation of repayment that have not yet been written off) and is probably the most fragile in Asia.
Behind the glowing headlines are fundamental frailties rooted in the Chinese neo-Leninist state. Unlike Maoism, neo-Leninism blends one-party rule and state control of key sectors of the economy with partial market reforms and an end to self-imposed isolation from the world economy. The Maoist state preached egalitarianism and relied on the loyalty of workers and peasants. The neo-Leninist state practices elitism, draws its support from technocrats, the military, and the police, and co-opts new social elites (professionals and private entrepreneurs) and foreign capital -- all vilified under Maoism. Neo-Leninism has rendered the ruling Chinese Communist Party more resilient but has also generated self-destructive forces.
To most Western observers, China's economic success obscures the predatory characteristics of its neo-Leninist state. But Beijing's brand of authoritarian politics is spawning a dangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampant corruption and widening inequality. Dreams that the country's economic liberalization will someday lead to political reform remain distant.
After a quarter century of gradual economic reform, has China succeeded in transforming its old command economy into a genuine market economy? Not nearly as well as most people would guess. Although China was one of the earliest socialist economies to begin serious reform, recent data on the country's regulatory system, international trade, fiscal policy and legal structure place China in the bottom third of 127 countries surveyed for economic freedom, below most Eastern European countries, India and Mexico, and all of its East Asian neighbors, save Burma and Vietnam.
The Chinese state remains deeply entrenched in the economy. According to official data for 2003, state-owned companies directly accounted for 38 percent of the country's GDP and employed 85 million people (about one third of the urban workforce).
But China's tentacles are even more securely wrapped around the economy than these figures suggest. For example, Beijing continues to own the bulk of capital. In 2003, the state controlled $1.2 trillion worth of capital stock, or 56 percent of the country's fixed industrial assets. There are only 40 private firms among the 1,520 Chinese companies listed on domestic and foreign exchanges.
To many observers, Beijing's tight grip on the Chinese economy means only that its reform process is incomplete. As China continues to open itself, they predict, state control will ease and market forces will clear away inefficient industries and clean up state institutions. The strong belief in gradual but inexorable economic liberalization often has a political corollary: that market forces will eventually produce civil liberties and political pluralism.
It's a comforting thought. Yet these optimistic visions tend to ignore the neo-Leninist regime's desperate need for unfettered access to economic spoils. Few authoritarian regimes can maintain power through coercion alone. Most mix coercion with patronage to secure support from key constituencies, such as the bureaucracy, the military and business interests. In other words, an authoritarian regime imperils its capacity for political control if it embraces full economic liberalization. Most authoritarian regimes know that much, and none better than Beijing.
Today, Beijing oversees a vast patronage system that secures the loyalty of supporters and allocates privileges to favored groups. The party appoints 81 percent of the chief executives of state-owned enterprises and 56 percent of all senior corporate executives.
State enterprises are miserably unprofitable. In 2003, a boom year, their median rate of return on assets was a measly 1.5 percent. More than 35 percent of state enterprises lose money and 1 in 6 has more debts than assets. China is the only country in history to have simultaneously achieved record economic growth and a record number of nonperforming bank loans.
Political savvy and business acumen do not often go together. Because of the party's fixation with high growth, government officials are rewarded for delivering, or appearing to deliver, precisely that. This incentive structure fuels a widespread misallocation of capital to "image projects" (such as new factories, luxury shopping malls, recreational facilities, and unnecessary infrastructure) that burnish local officials' records and strengthen their chances of promotion. The results of these mistakes -- gleaming office complexes, industrial parks, landscaped highways and public squares -- tend to impress Western visitors, who view them as further proof of China's economic prowess.
The Chinese economy is not merely inefficient; it has also fallen victim to crony capitalism with Chinese characteristics -- the marriage between unchecked power and ill-gotten wealth. And corruption is worst where the hand of the state is strongest. The most corrupt sectors in China, such as power generation, tobacco, banking, financial services, and infrastructure, are all state-controlled monopolies. None of that is unprecedented, of course. Tycoons in Russia, after all, have looted the state's natural resources. China, at least, boasts genuine private entrepreneurs who have built prosperous companies. But China's politically connected tycoons have cashed in on China's real estate boom; nearly half of Forbes' list of the 100 richest individuals in China in 2004 were real estate developers.
Various indicators, pieced together from official sources, suggest endemic graft within the state. The number of "large-sum cases" (those involving monetary amounts greater than $6,000) nearly doubled between 1992 and 2002, indicating that more wealth is being looted by corrupt officials. The rot appears to be spreading up the ranks, as more and more senior officials have been ensnared. The number of officials at the county level and above prosecuted by the government rose from 1,386 in 1992 to 2,925 in 2002.
An optimist might believe that these figures reveal stronger enforcement rather than metastasizing corruption, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Dishonest officials today face little risk of serious punishment. On average, 140,000 party officials and members were caught in corruption scandals each year in the 1990s, and 5.6 percent of these were criminally prosecuted. In 2004, 170,850 party officials and members were implicated, but only 4,915 (or 2.9 percent) were subject to criminal prosecution. So, party membership has its privileges.
Rapid economic growth has not yet produced China's much-anticipated political pluralism.
In part, democracy itself has been a victim of the country's economic expansion. However flawed and mismanaged, the country's rapid growth has bolstered Beijing's legitimacy and reduced pressure on its ruling elites to liberalize. Democratic transitions in developing countries are often caused by economic crises blamed on the incompetence and mismanagement of the ancien regime. China hasn't experienced that crisis yet. Meanwhile, the riches available to the ruling class tend to drown any movement for democratic reform from within the elite. Political power has become more valuable because it can be converted into wealth and privilege unimaginable in the past. At the moment, China's economic growth is having a perverse effect on democratization: It makes the ruling elite even more reluctant to part with power.
Generous government spending on law and order helps to ensure that power-sharing won't be necessary in the near future. Since the Tiananmen Square tragedy, the party has invested billions in beefing up the paramilitary police force (the People's Armed Police) that has been deployed in suppressing internal unrest. To counter the threat posed by the information revolution, and especially the Internet, the Chinese government has blended technological savvy with regulatory might.
The Chinese "Internet police," officially known as the Ministry of Public Security's Internet and Security Supervision Bureau, is reportedly more than 30,000 strong. Its Beijing branch proudly claimed that, in 2002, it participated in a multiagency exercise to see whether the government could rid the Internet of "harmful content" within 48 hours of the onset of an emergency. (During the exercise, all "harmful content" was removed in 19 hours.) The party's refined strategy of "selective repression" singles out only those who openly challenge its authority while leaving the general public alone. China is one of the few authoritarian states where homosexuality and sex-change operations are permitted, but political dissent is not.
The emerging social elite, by contrast, is co-opted and coddled. The party showers the urban intelligentsia, professionals and private entrepreneurs with economic perks, professional honors, and political access. For example, nationwide, 145,000 designated experts, or about 8 percent of senior professionals, received "special government stipends" (monthly salary supplements) in 2004; tens of thousands of former college professors have been recruited into the party and promoted to senior government positions. At least for now, the party's charm campaign is working: The social groups that are usually the forces of democratization have been politically neutralized.
China has already paid a heavy price for the flaws of its political system and the corruption it has spawned. Its new leaders, though aware of the depth of the decay, are taking only modest steps to correct it. For the moment, China's strong economic fundamentals and the boundless energy of its people have concealed and offset its poor governance, but they will carry China only so far. Someday soon, we will know whether such a flawed system can pass a stress test: a severe economic shock, political upheaval, a public health crisis or an ecological catastrophe. China may be rising, but no one really knows whether it can fly.
Minxin Pei is senior associate and director of the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of "China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy." A longer version of this piece ran in Foreign Policy magazine, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Contact us at email@example.com.
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♪ 太字は引用者。ただし中国ではBrokeback Mountainの上映が禁止されるなど、必ずしもLGBTが認められているわけではない。
The New York Times
Is France Ready to Elect a Woman?
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: April 7, 2006
PARIS, April 6 — Can this woman save France?
Ed Alcock for The New York Times
Ségolène Royal, legislator and regional president, is seen in France as an alternative to the graying men who run the country.
Can Ségolène Royal, the politician with the elegant profile and stratospheric poll ratings, lead the Socialists to victory in next year's presidential election?
In the confusion that has gripped France in recent months, with immigrant youth riots followed by huge protests turned violent, Ms. Royal, 52, is the only politician who looks good.
On Thursday, she graced the cover of four French magazines. "The Mystery Royal," announced Le Point, while Le Nouvel Observateur explored "What Is in Her Head?" VSD, which covers entertainment and news, asked, "President Ségolène: Is She Ready?"
"For the first time, the French say they are ready to vote for a woman; this is a historic event," she told Paris Match in its cover story that proclaimed, "The Irresistible Ascension."
The media's interest is not accidental. Voters are disillusioned with President Jacques Chirac, who has held office since 1995, and less than enthusiastic about the gray-haired white men who have long run the opposition Socialist Party.
With the government in disarray over protests against a youth jobs law and the Socialists doing little more than scoring points, Ms. Royal — a member of Parliament, regional president and former minister — has moved quickly to fill the vacuum.
She is the most popular potential Socialist presidential candidate by far in poll after poll. She even edged past Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the front-runner on the right, in a hypothetical runoff for the presidency in two recent polls.
She calls the jobs law, intended to encourage employers to hire young workers by making it easier to fire them, "a scandal" and "a form of violence." Asked in an interview late last month what she would do differently if she were in Mr. Chirac's shoes, she exclaimed: "I would be intelligent! Between the revolt in the suburbs last fall and the youth in the streets today, what a beautiful image of France we are giving to the world!"
Projecting a beautiful image is something that Ms. Royal does well. In addition to the magazine covers, she was the featured guest on TF1's television news program on Thursday. The first chapter of "Desires for the Future," her new online book intended to open a dialogue with the French people, appeared Thursday on her new Web site.
Ms. Royal also has helped cement her political standing at home by making a name for herself abroad. "I am globalizing myself," she said, laughing, about her interviews with foreign journalists in recent months. She annoyed the Socialist Party's old guard when she skipped the memorial for the 10th anniversary of the death of President François Mitterrand in January, jetting off to Chile instead, where she seized headlines by campaigning with the Socialist presidential candidate, Michelle Bachelet, who won.
A longtime admirer of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, Ms. Royal said she tentatively planned to appear with Mrs. Clinton at a conference in Washington in June.
Ms. Royal's domestic political strategy has been to carve out home-and-hearth issues that she promotes from her home base of Poitiers, where she presides over the Poitou-Charentes region of western France: saving the environment, improving schools, promoting opportunities for women, helping the disabled.
In late March, one of the items on the council's agenda was how to combat bad publicity about the bird flu virus in France. She announced a regionwide picnic featuring chicken, "to eradicate fear." And not only chicken. "Guinea fowl! Duck! Pigeon! Quail!" she said.
A fierce party infighter with a sharp tongue, she is not universally loved back home, especially by the men. "She is a pretty woman who tries to project a modern and open image," said Dominique Clément, the center-right mayor of the town of Saint Benoit. "But it's all an act. The packaging is beautiful. The marketing is slick. But the bottle is empty."
Ms. Royal seems to have little patience with open-ended debate in her council. When Henri de Richemont, a center-right council member and a lawyer, interrupted one time too many during the recent session, she lost her smile, crossed her arms and cut him off. "Very well, thank you for your intervention," she said curtly. "Anyone else?"
"She is the queen — who listens to no one and decides by herself," Mr. de Richemont said afterward.
But criticism can backfire. As soon as she said last September that she might run in the May 2007 presidential election, she rose sharply in the polls, even though some of her party brothers dismissed her declaration as outlandish.
"Who will look after the children?" Laurent Fabius, the former prime minister, joked. Another prominent Socialist, Jack Lang, declared, "The presidential race is not a beauty contest."
Since then, Ms. Royal has asserted her right to run. "I was attacked violently — by men," she said. "They said, 'She's a passing fad.' 'She's the cherry on the cake.' 'This shows that politics is zero.' 'She has nothing to say.' 'She's not tough enough.' All this criticism feeds my popularity. Besides, the politicians who attacked me were unpopular themselves."
Asked whether she considered herself arrogant, she replied: "Oh, no, surely not. Authoritarian. There is a demand for authority. I do not cultivate authority for pleasure."
Even the first lady, Bernadette Chirac, has rallied around her. "She can be a serious candidate and can even win," Mrs. Chirac said in February. "She has a look."
The strategy of leaders on the right has been to welcome Ms. Royal onto the battlefield, perhaps because they do not believe she poses a threat. Mr. Sarkozy has said she would be a "respectable opponent." Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has said he and Ms. Royal have gotten along "very well" since their days as classmates at the elite École Nationale d'Administration.
Despite her enshrinement by the news media, French voters are not used to new faces: Mr. Chirac and his predecessor, Mr. Mitterrand, reached the presidency after several tries.
It is by no means even sure that she will win the party's nomination when it chooses a candidate in November. Others seek the nomination, including, awkwardly, Francois Hollande, Ms. Royal's partner of 25 years who also happens to be the leader of the Socialist Party and with whom she has four children.
"If I am the best-placed to win, I will be ready," she said.
That they never married has not hurt either of them politically, and she has said that she and Mr. Hollande will decide together which one of them will try to run. Still, she struggles to maintain her independence, saying in the interview, "We are not a couple."
Her detractors fault her for a lack of experience in economic and national security matters. (She has led three second-tier ministries: Environment, School Education and Family and Childhood.) With the spotlight now on her, her views are being closely examined, and like other Socialists she has yet to say what she would do about unemployment, the burden of France's generous social welfare system or the country's fear of globalization. But when asked whether her lack of experience and her narrow base of issues were liabilities, she said, "Men who pretend to be experts in everything, aren't telling the truth."
The Financial Times
French jobs law spat aids rising star of Socialists
By Martin Arnold in Paris
Published: April 7 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 7 2006 03:00
Ségolène Royal, the rising star of France's Socialist party, was yesterday beaming out from newsstands across the country as pundits backed her to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government's bungled labour reforms.
Four magazines put Ms Royal on their front cover and last night she appeared on television channel TF1's primetime news show, giving her reaction to prime minister Dominique de Villepin's defence of his contentious youth jobs law.
With an impeccable sense of timing Ms Royal chose one of Mr de Villepin's most difficult weeks in politics to publish the first chapter of a book about reforming France on her website.
This has fuelled the media frenzy around the regional president of Poitou-Charente as the early favourite to win the Socialist party's nomination in next year's presidential elections.
Ms Royal has a 41 per cent approval rating, against 21 per cent for Lionel Jospin, former prime minister, 17 per cent for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former finance minister, and 15 per cent for Jack Lang, former culture minister, according to a CSA poll published in yesterday's Le Parisien. They are all seen as contenders for the presidency.
Yesterday's Paris Match, the weekly glossy magazine, purred: "She marvellously incarnates the great French contradictions: she has a delicious perfume of the conservative right wrapped in a progressive project."
Many expect next year's presidential campaign to be dominated by questions of unemployment and social protection triggered by protests over labour reform, which could work in Ms Royal's favour.
As a former minister for the family and the environment under the late president François Mitterrand, she has a built up a strong image on social issues.
Her relative inexperience of top ministerial jobs, once seen as a weakness, is now looking more like an advantage, allowing her to appear like a fresh face among the mostly ageing male members of a widely discredited political system.
"For the first time French people say they are ready to vote for a woman. Thatis the historical event.It is the thirst for change and the acknowledgement of failures," she told Paris Match.
While she has given few insights on her policy ideas, analysts are starting to say she is the left's best chance to beat Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister and early presidential favourite on the right.
She has been a fierce critic of the youth employment law, designed to make it easier for companies to fire young staff during a two-year trial. She has defied the government by promising to withhold regional subsidies from companies in Poitou-Charente that used the law.
"Flexibility causes social damage and is an economic nonsense," she said, adding that companies should focus on motivating staff and breaking with France's "archaic" management traditions.
Support could sweep mother of four French presidency
AMID widespread disillusionment with the president, Jacques Chirac, and his embattled prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, over their failed attempt to impose a controversial youth employment law, the French media yesterday turned the spotlight on the politician many now consider their country's brightest hope for a better future - Ségolène Royal.
Four out of France's five influential weekly news magazines put the photogenic Socialist MP, former minister and mother of four on their covers yesterday, as the latest opinion poll showed she is the voters' most popular choice as her party's candidate for next year's presidential elections.
"Ségo-mania", as it has become known, continued last night, when Ms Royal was the main guest on France's most-watched news programme. This week also saw the publication of a book about her and her longstanding partner, François Hollande, the Socialist party leader.
But is France ready for a Madame la présidente? Well, it appears so. More than 90 per cent of French people say they would be happy to have a woman president, despite the country's notoriously macho political tradition.
"She is the perfect embodiment of the great French contradictions: there is about her a delicious perfume of right-wing conservatism within a progressive project," Paris Match gushed yesterday.
"The Royal Mystery" declared Le Point, promising to reveal the secrets of her 25-year relationship with Mr Hollande. Le Nouvel Observateur devoted ten pages to "her ideas, her strategy, her trump cards, her handicaps", while the popular VSD put a photomontage of her, rigged out in full presidential regalia, on its cover.
With Mr de Villepin seriously weakened by the crisis over his highly contested youth employment law, it looks increasingly likely that the 2007 pres-idential elections will be a battle between Ségo and Sarko - as Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, is popularly known.
Ms Royal, a former Socialist minister for the family, environment and education and the current president of the Poitou-Charentes region, has become a media sensation in a matter of months.
Yesterday's poll, commissioned by the daily Le Parisien shows that 53 per cent of left-wing sympathisers want her to stand for the presidency, while, even on the Right, 45 per cent of Mr Chirac's conservative UMP party would like her to represent the opposition.
She continues to far outstrip her ambitious partner, Mr Hollande, who is languishing behind all the other potential Socialist candidates, with only 9 per cent of those surveyed saying they want him to stand as the party candidate next year.
The couple claim there is no domestic discord over the nomination - if both decide to run they will let party members decide on the best candidate.
"I don't reproach her for being popular; that would be absurd," Mr Hollande said recently. Party insiders say he has told her he will support her if he believes she is best placed to win.
His feelings for her will not affect his decision, he reportedly said.
They may not be important - Ms Royal's other party rivals are also trailing far behind, with her closest challenger, the former prime minister Lionel Jospin, getting 21 per cent of favourable votes.
Despite enormous public popularity, observers say Ms Royal enjoys little support within the Socialist party itself - an angle examined by the weekly L'Express, which yesterday devoted a long piece entitled "Anything but Ségolène" about the various strategies employed by her male rivals to stop her mercurial ascension.
"At the moment, Ségolène Royal is like a speeding locomotive - lovely to look at but with no train behind it," the political commentator Alain Duhamel wrote in the left-wing daily Libération.
Born in Senegal, one of eight children of a strict army colonel, Ms Royal graduated from the École National d'Administration, the training ground for France's political and business elite, where she met Mr Hollande.
She first came to public notice as a protégé of the former president François Mitterrand, who made her environment minister in 1992. Ten years later, she became France's first female president of a region after storming the then prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's fiefdom of Poitou-Charentes in western France.
This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=532842006
Last updated: 07-Apr-06 10:28 BST
News > Europe
Royal launches presidential campaign on the internet
By John Lichfield in Paris
Published: 08 April 2006
Ségolène Royal, the Socialist politician who is early favourite to be the next President of France, launched the world's first internet-led electoral campaign yesterday.
Mme Royal, 52, placed on her website the first of 10 chapters of a political manifesto that will be published in instalments on the internet in the next four months.
The former education and social affairs minister is inviting supporters - and anyone else - to "complete" the book with their own comments and ideas. A final text, drawing on the suggestions of web visitors but written by Mme Royal, will be published in September - two months before the Parti Socialiste chooses its candidate for next spring's presidential election.
Although a similar approach has been used by small parties elsewhere, this is believed to be the first time that a strong candidate for a leading party in a large country has offered an "interactive", internet-led political campaign.
Officially, Mme Royal, long-time partner of the Parti Socialiste's first secretary, François Hollande, is not yet a candidate for the presidential elections. She says she wishes to be "ready", if it becomes clear that she has the best chance of leading the centre-left to a triumph in the two-round elections next April and May. In recent opinion polls, she has not only outdistanced any other likely rivals on the left but overhauled the most likely centre-right candidate, the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The virtual campaign on her site (www.desirsdavenir.org) is intended to position Mme Royal as a grassroots, rather than top-down candidate. In comments to French magazines she says she plans to express the hunger of ordinary people in France for a more direct role in politics and a less aloof ruling class.
As a marketing idea, Mme Royal's approach could not be bettered. The Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, has collapsed in opinion polls, precisely because he refused to consult before pushing through an easy hire-easy fire jobs contract for the young.