IMF boss faces rival Royal bid for French presidency

PARIS: IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn faced growing pressure on Tuesday to say whether he will stand down to contest the French presidency, after fellow Socialist Segolene Royal declared herself in the running.Royal, who ran in 2007 but lost to Nicolas Sarkozy, took French politics by surprise by announcing well before the deadline that she would seek the Socialist ticket for the presidential election in early 2012.She raised the pressure further by saying her compatriot Strauss-Kahn would make an ideal prime minister if he chose to stay at the Washington-based International Monetary Fund until his term ends in late 2012, after the presidential contest.Sarkozy has dismal popularity ratings and many believe a resurgent left would be strong enough, with the right candidate, to end a conservative hold on the presidency since 1995.

Opinion polls suggest Strauss-Kahn, 61, could beat Sarkozy by a large margin and also put him way ahead of Royal, 57, as the preferred contender of Socialist voters.Strauss-Kahn has refused so far to reveal his intentions. “I will tell you what I tell everyone. I am going to see my term as IMF managing director through to the end. And the term ends in 2012,” he told German news magazine Stern this month.Few analysts took that as more than a standard refusal to be drawn. But Royal said the Stern interview showed he would have to change his mind if he were to throw his hat into the ring to challenge Sarkozy, who is expected to run for another term.His five-year term at the IMF, an emergency lender that has played a leading role in the current economic crisis, ends in November 2012, about six months after the presidential runoff will take place.The Socialist Party plans a pre-selection “primary” contest next autumn for which the hopefuls would have to declare by June 2011, but that breathing space looked less comfortable for Strauss-Kahn after Royal’s announcement.Royal, who met Strauss-Kahn in France last week, appeared to have drawn the conclusion that time was running out and that she might be able to tempt him to onto a “double-ticket” where she makes him prime minister if she is elected president.

“If Dominique does not come back, it’s my duty as candidate in the primaries to say that if I am elected president Dominique is the best prime minister, the best head of government, the best person to run and govern France,” she told France Inter radio.In France’s political system the prime minister usually plays second fiddle to the president, a phenomenon that has been compounded in recent years by Sarkozy’s hands-on style.In an Ifop poll published on Sunday, one in three Socialist voters picked Strauss-Kahn as their preferred presidential contender. Just one in 10 backed Royal, making her a distant second more or less on par with Socialist Party boss Martine Aubry.“The most likely scenario is all three won’t be candidates in the primaries. Martine has already said she will not be a candidate against Strauss-Kahn,” said Royal. A TNS Sofres published a week earlier showed Strauss-Kahn crushing Sarkozy if the two faced off in the second round of a presidential contest, taking 62 percent of the count – Arabnews