PARIS - Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal vowed today to overhaul France's institutions, promising a referendum on a "Sixth Republic" that would curb the presidency and grant parliament more power.
Royal said the plan, which would also give the prime minister greater authority, would be put to a national vote this autumn if she became France's first woman president in May.
Supporters said the changes would enhance Royal's mould-breaker status and help deflate centrist Francois Bayrou, who is challenging Royal for a place in a May 6 run-off ballot against rightwing frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy.
A new opinion poll in Monday's Le Figaro daily showed Sarkozy beating Royal, with two percentage points separating the Socialist from third-placed Bayrou, whose recent surge has rattled both leading candidates.
The Fifth Republic, created during the Algerian crisis that paralysed the Fourth Republic's parliamentary system, has often been attacked by the left as a "republican monarchy" in which a president dominates a legislature in a centralised state.
"We will make this new republic, of which you will be the actors and avant-garde, a success," Royal told 4,000 local government officials in Paris.
As well as greater powers to parliament and the prime minister, Royal said her plan would limit elected officials to holding one elected post at a time.
The speech marked the first time Royal had explicitly called for a new republic to replace institutions largely tailored to suit revered post-war leader General Charles de Gaulle.
The reform plan aimed to show "who offers the real alternative", leading Socialist Claude Bartolone said in reference to Bayrou. His call for a bi-partisan government of all talents, has struck a chord with voters tired of the main parties of government represented by Royal and Sarkozy.
"A thing like this (reform) will make Bayrou seem like old hat at a stroke," Bartolone said.
Royal, who unusually for a leftwing candidate wrapped up the meeting with the Marseillaise national anthem, paid tribute to party workers and invited leading party figures on stage.
The gesture contrasted with last week when Royal said she would fight a more personal campaign and not be bound by the party machine, angering some senior party members.