Jacques Chirac's Second Term As President Of France
At age 69, Jacques Chirac faced his fourth campaign for the French Presidency in 2002. He was the first choice of fewer than one voter in five in the first round of voting of the presidential elections of April 2002. It had been expected that he would face incumbent prime minister Lionel Jospin on the second round of elections; instead, Chirac faced controversial far right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen of the law-and-order, anti-immigrant National Front, and won re-election by a landslide; most parties outside the National Front had called for opposing Le Pen, even if it meant voting for Chirac. Slogans such as "vote for the crook, not for the fascist" or "vote with a clothespin on your nose" appeared.
"We must reject extremism in the name of the honour of France, in the name of the unity of our own nation," Chirac said before the presidential election. "I call on all French to massively vote for republican ideals against the extreme right."
The left-wing Socialist Party being in thorough disarray following Jospin's defeat, Chirac reorganized politics on the right, establishing a new party — initially called the Union of the Presidential Majority, then the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The RPR had broken down - a number of members had formed Eurosceptic breakaways. While the Giscardian liberals of the Union of French Democracy (UDF) had moved sharply to the right. The UMP won the parliamentary elections that followed the presidential poll with ease.
On 14 July 2002, during Bastille Day celebrations, Chirac survived an assassination attempt by a lone gunman with a rifle hidden in a guitar case. The would-be assassin fired a shot toward the presidential motorcade, before being overpowered by bystanders. The gunman, Maxime Brunerie, underwent psychiatric testing; the violent far-right group with which he was associated, Unité Radicale was then administratively dissolved. Brunerie had also been a candidate for the Mouvement National Républicain a far-right party at a local election. Brunerie's trial for attempted murder began on December 6, 2004; a crucial question was whether the court found that Brunerie's capacity for rational thought was absent (see insanity defence) or merely altered. On December 10, the court, exceeding the sentence pushed for by the prosecution, sentenced Brunerie to 10 years in prison.
Chirac emerged as a leading voice against US president George W. Bush's administration's conduct towards Iraq. Despite intense U.S. pressure, Chirac threatened to veto, at that given point, a resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of military force to rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction, and rallied other governments to his position. Russia, another permanent UN Security Council member, said it, too, would use its veto against such a resolution, (cf. Governments' pre-war positions on invasion of Iraq and Protests against the 2003 Iraq war). "Iraq today does not represent an immediate threat that justifies an immediate war", Chirac said on March 18, 2003. Chirac was then the target of various American and British commentators supporting the decisions of president Bush and prime minister Tony Blair. See also anti-French sentiment in the United States. Suspected French involvement in "under the table" deals with Saddam Hussein have led many supporters of the war to question Chirac's motives in opposing the invasion of Iraq.
During a state visit to the People's Republic of China on April 21, 2005 Chirac's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin lent support to the new Anti-Secession Law, which justified an invasion of Taiwan by the PRC in the event of a declaration of Taiwan independence, and continued to push for a lift of the European Union arms embargo against China. France's position was seen as attempting to aid China in altering the balance of power against the U.S. in East Asia, in which the control of Taiwan is of utmost importance. This drew widespread condemnation from the U.S. which responded by threatening sanctions against the EU unless the embargo was continued.
On 29 May 2005 a referendum was held in France to decide whether the country should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. The result was a victory for the No campaign, with 55% of voters rejecting the treaty on a turnout of 69%, dealing a devastating blow to Chirac and the UMP party. Chirac's decision to hold a referendum was thought to have been influenced in part by the surprise announcement that the United Kingdom was to hold a vote of its own. Although the adoption of a Constitution had initially been played down as a 'tidying-up' exercise with no need for a popular vote, as increasing numbers of EU member states announced their intention to hold a referendum, the French government came under increasing pressure to follow suit.
French voters turned down the proposed document by a wide margin, which was interpreted by some as a rebuke to Chirac and his government. Two days later, Jean-Pierre Raffarin resigned and Chirac appointed Dominique de Villepin as Prime Minister of France.
In an address to the nation, Chirac has declared that the new cabinet's top priority would be to curb the unemployment level, which consistently hovers above 10%, calling for a "national mobilization" to that effect. One of the main promises of Jean-Pierre Raffarin when he became Prime Minister had been to spur growth and that "the end of President Chirac's term would be marked by a drop in unemployment". However, at the time of his dismissal, no such improvement could be seen. Villepin set himself a deadline of a hundred days to restore the French people's trust in their government (note that Villepin's first published book was titled The Hundred Days or the Spirit of Sacrifice).
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