Bayrou gains ground in presidential campaign

19th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 18, 2007 (AFP) - The duel between Socialist Segolene Royal and rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency is getting a jolt from a third candidate whose platform rejects the left-right divide.

PARIS, Feb 18, 2007 (AFP) - The duel between Socialist Segolene Royal and rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency is getting a jolt from a third candidate whose platform rejects the left-right divide.

Centrist Francois Bayrou of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) is steadily climbing in polls, gaining up to 14 percent of votes and outshining far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the campaign for the April-May vote.

While he may lack the oomph and colour of the two frontrunners, Bayrou is winning votes with an energetic campaign in the French provinces that has allowed him to tap into discontent with the Paris political establishment.

"I want us to leave behind the prehistoric age. I believe that the left-right confrontation is a prehistoric confrontation," Bayrou said during a recent campaign swing through the central city of Poitiers.

A former education minister, Bayrou has proposed creating a national union government to bring together leaders from both political stripes, a sort of Third Way coalition that he claims could overcome ideological differences.

His ideas are making headway, with a CSA poll released Sunday showing that 55 percent of voters want Bayrou to be in a run-off vote scheduled in May after the first round in April. Respondents did not specify against whom they would like him to run.

The 55-year-old former teacher is drawing votes away from Royal, who is battling to reverse an alarming slide in the polls against frontrunner Sarkozy.

Bayrou won approval for his attack on the costly election programmes of the two frontrunners whom he accused of preparing to "hand out Christmas gifts" that France can ill afford.

A poll in Le Figaro newspaper last week showed that a whopping 74 percent of voters agreed with him.

"People love it when Francois Bayrou dismisses both Sarko and Sego (Sarkozy and Royal)," said Bruno Jeanbart from the private polling firm Opinion Way.

"The French shine up to a candidate who attacks the unachievable promises and artificial divide between the right and the left."

One of France's top political commentators, Alain Duhamel, lost his spot on prime time television and radio last week after he told a group of students that he planned to vote for Bayrou.

Video footage of Duhamel declaring his support for the UDF candidate was posted on an Internet site, prompting the French public broadcaster and RTL radio to drop him. The commentator was supposed to be non-partisan.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has praised Bayrou for raising France's place within Europe as a campaign issue and described him as a man who has "the simple charm that is typical of the provinces."

Bayrou has called for a new referendum on an EU constitution that would be revamped at an inter-governmental conference to break the impasse from France's rejection of a draft text in May 2005.

That position stands in contrast to Sarkozy who has said that a constitution should be adopted by parliament to quickly end the crisis over Europe's founding charter.

Born into a family of farmers from the southwestern Bearn region of France, Bayrou barely registered a blip on the campaign in 2002 when he won 6.84 percent of votes.

The horse breeder and father of six has written several works on Henri IV, the French king who helped bridge the religious divide by granting rights to Protestants in 1598.

He began his political career at the age of 26 as a candidate in the legislative elections but his stint as education minister from 1993 to 1997 has been described as lacklustre, having failed to enact reforms.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential elections

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