French candidates hold crucial television debate

2nd May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal argued over public spending and crime figures in a television debate Wednesday considered crucial to the outcome of the French presidential election.

PARIS, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - Right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal argued over public spending and crime figures in a television debate Wednesday considered crucial to the outcome of the French presidential election.

More than half the country's adult population was estimated to be watching the two hour confrontation, which was carried live on France's two biggest television channels.

Seated opposite each other across a two-metre (six foot) table, the candidates were joined by France's top two news presenters, who chaired the debate.

Sarkozy repeated a promise to cut public spending and highlighted his claimed success in cutting crime levels when interior minister. He said that if successful on Sunday he would be "a president who commits to results".

Royal said that France needed "political leaders who give accounts" of their actions and insisted that French people were still worried about violent crime and unemployment.

Sarkozy, who heads the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, was dressed in a dark suit and tie, and Royal was in a black jacket over a white blouse.

Televised debates have been held between the finalists in every French election since 1974 -- except in 2002 when Jacques Chirac refused to meet far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The impact of past debates has been hard to measure, but both the Sarkozy and Royal camps know that their encounter could be crucial in determining the choice of millions of uncommitted voters.

Nearly seven million people chose defeated centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round of the vote on April 22, and the second-round campaign has focussed on capturing his electorate.

Leading by between two and eight percentage points in opinion polls, Sarkozy needs just to hold his own and make sure he does not lose his temper, according to Christophe Barbier, editor of L'Express news magazine.

"As for Royal, she is the outsider. She needs to make up some two million votes. So she will go on the offensive. She will attack Sarkozy for his record in office and accuse him of being a dangerous representative of the hard right," he said.

Sarkozy and Royal both prepared extensively for the challenge, viewing clips of their adversary, studying briefing papers on their weak points and practising dummy runs with aides.

The two have faced each other only once before in a debate. Just before the 1993 legislative elections they had an ill-tempered exchange in a television studio, a clip of which has been circulating on the Internet.

Campaigning for the second round ends on Friday at midnight. On Thursday the two candidates hold their last rallies, Royal in the northern city of Lille and Sarkozy in Montpellier in the south.

The latest opinion poll released by IPSOS on Tuesday gave Sarkozy 53.5 percent of the vote against 46.5 percent for Royal. A total of 87 percent said they had made up their mind.

In the first round, Sarkozy got 31.2 percent of the vote and Royal 25.9 percent. Le Pen got 10.4 percent.

On Tuesday Le Pen urged his 3.8 million voters not to vote for Sarkozy or Royal. Bayrou has not issued an endorsement for either candidate.

Giscard d'Estaing, who took part in two televised debates with Mitterrand in 1974 and 1981, said the head-to-head between Sarkozy and Royal would be the "decisive ... high-point of the campaign".

In the 1974 debate Giscard d'Estaing coined the phrase "You do not have a monopoly on the heart", which was seen as giving him the edge. He went on to win by a very small majority.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article