Calls mount for the great French presidential debate

6th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 5, 2007 (AFP) - With more than one in three French voters still undecided, a growing number of voices are calling for presidential candidates to square off in a full-scale debate to allow voters to better size them up.

PARIS, April 5, 2007 (AFP) - With more than one in three French voters still undecided, a growing number of voices are calling for presidential candidates to square off in a full-scale debate to allow voters to better size them up.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou is championing the idea of an Internet debate between the top four contenders while a group of 400 journalists who work for public broadcasters are calling for a televised showdown between all 12 candidates.

On Thursday, the journalists said more than 11,000 people had signed a petition launched in February demanding that public broadcasters organise a debate between all 12 candidates in the runup to the April 22 vote.

"A debate would pit the candidates against each other and allow people to decide," said Jean-Francois Tealdi, a television reporter and one of the initiators of the petition.

"The absence of such a debate is an offence against democracy," he said.

All of the candidates have said they are open to the idea, except for frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy who argues that a face-to-face duel should take place between the two top contenders who will move on to the May 6 runoff.

"Let's let the French choose the two candidates for the second round and at that time, there will be debate," said Sarkozy this week during a campaign swing through the northern Brittany region.

"A debate between 12, I really don't see the point," said Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement.

Bayrou's call for an online debate was intended to circumvent rules by the Higher Media Council (CSA), which states that all candidates must be given equal access to air time during the campaign.

The CSA does not have any authority over the Internet.

Bayrou was hoping to join Sarkozy, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen for a debate that would be filmed and transmitted over the Internet.

But Tealdi, from the group of journalists, said many French voters who are poor or jobless don't have access to the Internet and would not be able to follow the great encounter between the Elysee hopefuls.

Bayrou, who is holding the third spot in the race behind Royal, said Thursday that pressure was mounting on Sarkozy to yield to calls for such a public clash of ideas.

"He does not have the right to say no. This debate is not for the convenience of the candidates, it's to inform the citizen," he said.

The journalists have accused public TV directors of shirking their responsibility by hiding behind the argument that a 12-candidate debate would be logistically complicated to organise.

Veteran political commentator Alain Duhamel said an Internet debate would be useful, but a televised debate even better.

"It would take time to ensure that all the candidates get equal air time," said Duhamel in an interview to the popular Le Parisien newspaper.

But he added: "It's worth the time and effort for democracy."

Duhamel suggested holding three debates with four candidates or four with three contenders.

Televised election debates have taken place in France between the two contenders facing off in the second round.

President Jacques Chirac however refused to hold a debate with far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 election, saying that he would not dignify his extremist views with such an exchange.
 
With a little more than two weeks left before the first round of voting, polls show between 37 percent and 53 percent of voters are undecided, with women and voters under 35 among the most uncertain about their choice.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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