Presidential contenders target undecided voters

18th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 18, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential contenders on Wednesday appealed to millions of voters who remain undecided four days ahead of the first round of voting in what is shaping up as a cliffhanger election.

PARIS, April 18, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential contenders on Wednesday appealed to millions of voters who remain undecided four days ahead of the first round of voting in what is shaping up as a cliffhanger election.

Rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy remains ahead in most polls, but with at least one in three voters still to make up their minds, the candidate said he was fighting for every vote ahead of the poll on Sunday.

"I am far from believing that the battle is won," said Sarkozy, the 52-year-old former interior minister, in an interview to Le Figaro newspaper.

"Quite the opposite, I believe that nothing is decided."

Sarkozy is facing a strong challenge from Socialist rival Segolene Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president, while centrist Francois Bayrou could also spring a surprise from his number three position in the polls.

"There are 17 million undecided voters. They are still considering (their choice). I see this as a mark of their high demands," said Royal, a 53-year-old former adviser to president Francois Mitterrand.

"They know that France is in a bad state. They are perfectly aware of the debt, deficit, social programmes, unemployment and they know that the stakes are high and that what will be done in the coming years will change the face of France in either a positive or a negative way," she said in a interview to Metro newspaper.

Royal is trailing Sarkozy in the polls for the first round of voting but surveys also show that Bayrou stands a stronger chance of beating Sarkozy in the runoff, set for May 6.

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who shocked France in the 2002 election when he beat Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin and moved to the runoff against Jacques Chirac, holds the fourth spot with about 13.5 percent of the vote, according to the latest Ipsos/Dell survey.

Bayrou, a 55-year-old former education minister who speaks fondly of growing up in rural France, said he was confident that undecided voters would ultimately choose him and bring down "the Berlin Wall" of the left and right political divide.

"A great change is going to happen on Sunday," said Bayrou, whose poll rating has been holding steady at around 18.5 percent after a spectacular leap, behind Royal at about 24.5 percent and Sarkozy at 29.5 percent.

"I am sure that the French people are preparing a surprise, which is being kept secret, but which will be done in a positive and constructive spirit unlike 2002," said Bayrou during a campaign swing in the northern city of Lille.

Former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, 81, who founded Bayrou's centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) party, is due on Thursday to announce his support for Sarkozy, who has been accused recently of veering to the right with his tough stance on immigration and national identity.

Sarkozy defended himself on Wednesday, saying "it would be a mistake to leave the monopoly on nationhood to Le Pen" and played down concerns that his high-octane personality inspires more fear than admiration among voters.

"There has never been an election when the frontrunner has not been attacked on his personality," said Sarkozy, who is seen as a divisive figure who has alienated many in the high-immigrant suburbs with his tough rhetoric.

Making its contribution to the debate over Sarkozy's personality, the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo released a special edition featuring the former interior minister under the headline "Vote for Fear."

But a new Ifop poll showed that Sarkozy was making inroads among young first-time voters, with 30 percent set to back him, compared to 23 percent for Bayrou and 22 percent for Royal.

Voters are to choose a successor to 74-year-old President Jacques Chirac in one of the most unpredictable races in decades.

In all, 12 candidates are running in the first round including three Trotskyites, a Communist, a Green, anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove, a hunters' rights campaigner and a Catholic nationalist.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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