PRESIDENT JACQUES Chirac tore up his preferred script for an aloof and brief re-election campaign yesterday and declared - one month earlier than expected - that he would again stand this spring.
Shaken by a slide in the opinion polls and the airing of financial scandals from his past, the 69-year-old President announced he would fight his fourth successive presidential election campaign, equalling the record of his former rival, the late Francois Mitterrand.
On a visit to Avignon, Mr Chirac told supporters that he would be a candidate in the two-round election on 21 April and 5 May. "Yes, I am a candidate," he said. "I believe in France, and I know and love the people of France. I believe that, putting aside ideologies and prejudices and dogma, and through dialogue, we can lead France to victory together."
The invited audience of 100 burst into applause and sang the "Marseillaise". There was no surprise in Mr Chirac's decision to run in the election, but he had intended to remained cocooned in his presidential dignity until mid-March, at least. He had wanted to run a brief but sonorous campaign, overwhelming his presumed chief rival, the Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin.
The President has been forced into the open by a slide in the polls and the desertion of some centre-right supporters to a mischief-making campaign run by the leftist nationalist Jean-Pierre Chevenement.
Mr Chirac has also been wounded by renewed press speculation over financial scandals in his past, precipitated by the return to France last week of Didier Schuller, a former senior official of his RPR party, who fled to the Caribbean during the last presidential campaign in 1995. Although the President appealed for a dignified and serene campaign, his early leap on to the hustings might signal the start of one of the nastier electoral battles in recent French history. …