Parisians set to get their first ever female mayor

Paris mayoral candidates Anne Hidalgo (left), Paris deputy mayor and Socialist Party member and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (right), conservative UMP political party member at the LCI studios in Boulogne-Billancourt before taking part in a televised d
Paris mayoral candidates Anne Hidalgo (left), Paris deputy mayor and Socialist Party member and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (right), conservative UMP political party member at the LCI studios in Boulogne-Billancourt before taking part in a televised debate on Jan 29, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS 

PARIS - It's a battle that is guaranteed to make history.

A fiery, "killer" former minister and the left-wing daughter of Spanish immigrants are vying to become the first female mayor of Paris.

The two women have for months been engaged in a fierce duel to try and persuade Parisians voting in municipal elections on March 23 and 30 to trust them with one of the most high-profile roles in French politics: one widely seen as a potential stepping stone to higher office.

In the right corner, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a redhead, 40-year-old mother-of-two and self-declared political "killer" who graduated from the elite Ecole Polytechnique university.

A former ecology minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy, she is now a lawmaker from the main opposition UMP party that has been hit hard recently by several corruption cases and scandals.

On the left, Anne Hidalgo, 54, seen as serious but lacking pazazz, who is only just emerging from the shadow of her boss, current Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

With no previous ministerial experience, the brunette has been Delanoe's deputy for nearly 13 years.

She has tried to put some distance between her campaign and the current policies of a Socialist government suffering from record popularity lows, and poll after poll has given her as the winner.

The duel between Kosciusko-Morizet - widely known as "NKM" - and Hidalgo has been marked more by acrimonious digs directed against each other than by their policies for the future of the city of 2.2 million inhabitants.

Kosciusko-Morizet's team reportedly qualified the contest as a "battle between the star and the caretaker", in what was seen as a catty reference to Hidalgo's Iberian heritage (the concierges of Paris apartment buildings are often Portuguese).

Hidalgo hit back by accusing NKM of being part of a privileged "caste" cut off from the real world.

And while she lacks the flamboyance of Kosciusko-Morizet, her campaign has been smoother than that of her overtly ambitious rival.

"I am a killer... Everybody is a killer in politics. Some know how to shoot, some do not. Some do that in your face, most of them do that in your back. I do that in the face," Kosciusko-Morizet said in an interview with NBC News last summer.

Becoming Paris mayor was a stepping stone to the French presidency for Jacques Chirac and Kosciusko-Morizet has been accused of using the capital purely as a launchpad.

She denies this, saying that her "only obsession is the battle for Paris."

Her campaign has also been dogged by in-fighting and has at times been ridiculed.

From a wealthy establishment family, she once described the Paris metro as a "charming place" where people can experience "moments of grace" - comments viewed as emanating from someone who rarely uses this mode of public transport, or at least not at rush hour.

As for their actual programmes for the French capital, both want to maintain its image as place of romance and beauty, as well as its economically crucial status as the world's most visited city, a position increasingly threatened by London.

"NKM" has announced she wants to reduce the number of civil servants in Paris to save 225 million euros (S$395.43 million) by 2020, make the centre more pedestrian-friendly and reinforce security.

Hidalgo, meanwhile, has put forward a plan to invest 8.5 billion euros in improvements in housing, transport and green spaces, with the aim of reversing a middle and working class exodus towards the suburbs.

In a televised debate at the end of January, the two women came face-to-face in a fierce debate on issues such as crime, housing, transport and taxes.

Most pundits scored the contest about even with NKM having failed to land the knockout punch she is thought to have needed to overturn Hidalgo's lead in the polls.

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