- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

PARIS — Dominique de Villepin, the French prime minister, has received an unexpected boost from his daughter in the campaign against his Cabinet rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, for the presidency.

Seen by many as aloof, Mr. de Villepin’s chances of winning over the French public likely will be enhanced by the modeling exploits of his beautiful, teenage daughter, Marie de Villepin.

Miss de Villepin, 19, appears across six glossy pages in the current issue of Elle, posing in low-cut or strapless silk and taffeta haute couture from the winter collections of Chanel, Valentino, Givenchy and Armani.

Given the French passion for a sexy pout, Miss de Villepin’s timely appearance can only lift her father’s profile, already helped last week when he was asked to step in for President Jacques Chirac at the United Nations World Summit in New York.

Blonde, tall and fashionably skinny, Miss de Villepin — the eldest of the prime minister’s three children — appeared beneath the headline “Model Daughter.” She was described as having the appeal of a “Pre-Raphaelite Madonna.”

While she shares the bearing and privilege of her aristocratic father, her resume makes her sound just the sort of person whom Mr. de Villepin’s reform-minded political rival Mr. Sarkozy wants to attract to his vision of a new France.

According to Elle, Miss de Villepin is studying economics, models in her spare time, has shares in a mobile telephone battery company and is an occasional actress. In 2000 she played a minor role in La Buche, a film starring Emmanuelle Beart, which won a Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar.

Political analysts think that her father and Mr. Sarkozy, the interior minister, who are both members of Mr Chirac’s right-of-center UMP party, will go head-to-head in the presidential elections in 2007.

The 72-year-old president spent a week in a hospital after suffering what was thought to be a minor stroke two weeks ago and he nominated Mr. de Villepin to step into the U.N. limelight.

French commentators saw this as confirmation of his protege as “dauphin.” Mr. Sarkozy, 50, who has three sons, has made no secret of his ambition to be president. Mr. de Villepin, 51, has stated that he has no desire for the post, although few believe him.

“Of course he’s going to say that while his mentor is president and hasn’t completely ruled out standing again,” said Robert Schneider, the political editor of the weekly Nouvel Observateur magazine. “I don’t think we should believe him.”

Mr. de Villepin, a former career diplomat who has never been elected, was appointed prime minister in May in the wake of France’s rejection of the European Constitution.

The French were initially skeptical that he could revitalize the country’s economy and cut unemployment, but his popularity has grown in the last few weeks.

As if on cue, his daughter’s high-profile feature in Elle was published as the prime minister was preparing to leave for the United Nations, where he first came to international prominence in 2003 when he criticized the war on Iraq.

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