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French press review 21 September 2016

Who will qualify for the right-wing presidential primary? The final list will be announced today. As France embarks on the business of electing a new president, how much does it cost to keep the old ones? And what lessons are to be learned from last Sunday's parliamentary elections in Russia?

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Later today, the waiting nation will know the definitive list of those who intend to run in the right-wing presidential primary. The announcement by the High Electoral Authority will also launch the candidates on the official campaign trail.

Even if we've known for months that Alain Juppé, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Fillon and Bruno Le Maire were going to be in the final frame, not all pretenders have managed to collect the required signatures of 20 deputies and 2,500 party activists. The problem is that, if your party activist has already signed for another candidate, you lose his or her support. The High Authority has been going through the lists with a fine comb to weed out the repeat offenders.

Hervé Mariton, currently a deputy, may find himself excluded because some of his supporters are divided in their loyalties. The same is true for Jean-François Copé and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

Le Figaro says we're looking at a primary with six, seven or eight runners, and that the key issues will be the same for all: immigration, Islam, terrorism, taxation, pensions and retirement, the 35-hour working week, the civil service (where Bruno Le Maire wants to cut 500,000 jobs) and education.

There will be three debates on national television. Le Maire may have a bit of trouble keeping to the one-minute limit in presenting his ideas in each key domain: the fomer Agriculture Minister has produced a "Presidential Contract" which runs to over 1,000 pages.

Right-wing and centrist enthusiasts will be called upon to choose their candidate at the end of November.

In the style to which they have become accustomed

Speaking of presidents, Libération reports that the last three men to hold the top job in France (Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy) are still costing the state more than 10 million euros every year.

Each gets a salary of 65,000 euros; they get a further 14,000 per month for being members of the Constitutional Council; each is entitled to a rent-free furnished and equipped office, and accommodation . . . Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, has 700 square metres on the very chic rue Miromesnil here in Paris. They each have a car, and two full-time drivers. Plus two policemen to mind them. They all travel first class, on the railways and Air France, with the state paying the bills.

United Russia hammers opposition

The editorial in Le Monde wonders what lessons are to be learned from last Sunday's parliamentary elections in Russia.

Despite 18 straight months of economic recession, international sanctions in the wake of Moscow's invasion of the Crimea, the on-going war in eastern Ukraine, having most of its athletes dumped out of the Rio Games because the government was helping them to cheat, the ruling United Russia party still managed a huge victory, collecting 76 percent of the seats in the new Douma, as the lower house of parliament is called.

For Le Monde, the way is now wide open for Vladimir Putin to win a fourth mandate in the next presidential race, due in 2018.

He hasn't said he'll run, but with a personal popularity rating of 86 percent, he'd be mad not to. Especially since he'll be the only contender. According to Le Monde, the Russian opposition is so badly organised that United Russia didn't even need to cheat to win on Sunday.

Fewer than 50 percent of voters showed up last weekend, most of those opposed to the current regime feeling that they'd have been wasting their time.

It was a funny election anyway: no programme, no debates, no meetings. Over one million people watched drone footage of the luxurious home of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, put on the internet by an opposition leader just days before the vote, without any impact at the ballot box.

Russia United may have learned something from French President François Hollande, assuring voters that the worst is behind them, despite an unending series of economic indicators that suggest the opposite.

So Putin looks like a shoo-in for 2018. But Le Monde reminds us that the popularity of the Russian Communist Party in 1990 was 86 percent, exactly the same as Vlad's rating today. Less than one year later, in 1991, the Soviet Union was a smoking ruin.

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