LUXEMBOURG - Socialist leader Paulette Lenert could become Luxembourg's first female prime minister following Sunday's elections in the country wedged between Belgium, France and Germany.
No stranger to a challenge, the 55-year-old rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic, steering the country's response as health minister from February 2020.
Lenert remained coy about her ambitions in an interview with AFP, insisting she did not see herself taking over from current centre-right premier Xavier Bettel.
"I'm someone who lives in the moment. I don't ruminate too much on the past and I don't plan too far ahead either. Who knows what will happen between now and then," the former judge said.
Lenert described herself as "very motivated" and said it was "a challenge" and "an honour" to work in the political sphere.
"I represent a party and a programme," she said. "We must remain focused right to the end and continue with perseverance to convince people of our ideas, explain, answer questions."
One of her role models is the former New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who abruptly quit in January 2023 after admitting she no longer had enough energy to go on.
Among Lenert's main promises is introducing a 38-hour week, instead of the current 40, to give people a better work-life balance.
Observers believe Lenert has a real chance of becoming the next prime minister.
Her party is ahead of its two political partners in the current governing coalition, according to polls.
One survey put the socialist LSAP party on course to win 19.8 percent of votes, ahead of the centre-right PD party at 17.4 percent and the ecologists at 10.7 percent.
'Lenert posters everywhere'
Politics in Luxembourg has long been dominated by the conservative Christian Social People's Party (CSV), once led by ex-premier Jean-Claude Juncker.
The same poll put the CSV, led by Luc Frieden, on 28.3 percent.
The big unknown ahead of the vote is whether Bettel's coalition will still have enough votes to keep the CSV in opposition, as it did in 2018 to many people's surprise.
If the socialists get a bigger slice of the vote, Lenert could be in a strong position to become the next prime minister.
Lenert has clearly positioned herself to take over from Bettel, according to political sciences professor Philippe Poirier.
But he warned against underestimating the current premier's popularity after 10 years in office.
"Xavier Bettel has not suffered from declining popularity but Paulette Lenert has also become a central figure," the professor at Luxembourg University said.
"Never before has there been such a personification of political communication by socialists. There are posters of her all over the country."
Her popularity was clear to see during a day of campaigning spent with Lenert.
She was warmly welcomed at a Lebanese food stand at a market in Junglinster, a town of 8,600 people in her constituency, 20 kilometres northeast of the capital.
Unknown four years ago
Lenert was completely unknown to the public four years ago.
That suddenly changed when she became health minister and frequently informed the public about anti-Covid measures.
She began as a lawyer before becoming a judge at the administrative court until 2014, when she was seconded from the judiciary to work in different ministries.
She remembered the pandemic as a "very difficult period", especially when she announced the end of visits to retirement homes.
It was no doubt a formative experience for someone who might one day represent their country at European Union leaders' summits or in other international forums.
But Lenert did not give anything away about what she would do differently or better than Bettel.
"I am part of this government, which supports a strong and united Europe. That would not change radically," she said.