Presidential candidates gear up for crucial debate

1st May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 30, 2007 (AFP) - Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal embarked Monday on the final days of campaigning in the French presidential election, with all eyes on a crucial televised debate.

PARIS, April 30, 2007 (AFP) - Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal embarked Monday on the final days of campaigning in the French presidential election, with all eyes on a crucial televised debate.

Sarkozy, who has a narrow lead in the opinion polls, was at the hustings in France's Mediterranean island of Corsica, a day after a mass rally in central Paris attended by some 40,000 of his supporters.

Royal was preparing for a May 1 Workers' Day meeting Tuesday at a stadium in the south of the capital.

The high-point of the campaign comes on Wednesday, when the rivals face each other for a televised debate expected to be watched by 20 million viewers.

But both Sarkozy and Royal were also awaiting a speech due Tuesday by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right leader who was knocked out of the campaign in the first round of voting.

He was set at his National Front party's traditional May 1 parade to advise the 3.8 million people who voted for him which way to vote in the run-off ballot. Most observers predicted he would reluctantly plump for Sarkozy.

Wednesday's debate is seen as the crucial moment of the second round campaign.

"There has not been a debate as important as this... since 1981. We know that the election is still wide open," said Socialist Party (PS) leader Francois Hollande, who is also Royal's partner.

"The debate should not be a joust or a quarrel or a battle, but a confrontation of ideas, policies, values," he said.

Both candidates are appealing for support from the 6.8 million voters who chose the defeated centrist Francois Bayrou in the April 22 first round.

In Sunday's meeting in Paris, Sarkozy, 52, issued an appeal to "the voters of the centre, whose values are so close to our own" -- and he held out the promise of a dose of proportional representation in future elections, which is a measure backed by Bayrou.

Flanked by several showbusiness personalities including singer Johnny Hallyday and actress Charlotte Rampling, Sarkozy also fired a tirade at the "heirs of May 68" and the Paris student uprising.

"After May 1968 morality was a word that one could not utter. It was a word that had disappeared from political vocabulary. Now for the first time in decades, morality is at the heart of the presidential debate," he said.

On Saturday Royal, 53, and Bayrou, 55, had a televised discussion, in what was seen as a bid by the Socialist candidate to broaden her support on the political centre.

The pair agreed on issues such as institutional reform and the environment, but had no common ground on the economy.

A TNS Sofres opinion poll indicated that 31 percent of Bayrou voters plan to back Royal in round two, and 23 percent for Sarkozy.

A further 39 percent had yet to make up their mind. Royal would need to win over half of Bayrou supporters to snatch victory.

Another poll published Monday by LH2 put Sarkozy in the lead at 52 percent of voting intentions, down two percentage points, while Royal was at 48 percent, up two points.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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