Royal and Sarkozy pin hopes on defeated centrist

25th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 25, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, trained their sights Wednesday on a defeated centrist candidate whose seven million voters hold the key to next week's run-off ballot.

PARIS, April 25, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, trained their sights Wednesday on a defeated centrist candidate whose seven million voters hold the key to next week's run-off ballot.

Francois Bayrou was set to reveal his next move at a much-awaited news conference later in the day, amid intense pressure from rightwinger Sarkozy, and the socialist Royal to throw his weight behind them.

Both have offered talks on a political pact and dangled the possibility of cabinet posts for members of Bayrou's Union for French Democracy (UDF) party. 

Sarkozy's ruling party, with whom the UDF is allied in the current government, has added a stick to the carrot, threatening to ditch constituency alliances and oppose UDF candidates in parliamentary elections in June if Bayrou does not come on board.

But Bayrou, who came third in Sunday's multi-candidate first round with 18.57 percent of the vote, has until now kept a stony silence, refusing to advise his supporters to head either left or right in the run-off on May 6.

Most observers said the 55-year-old former education minister would not endorse either Royal or Sarkozy at Wednesday's press conference, having fought his campaign on the central theme of rejecting the left-right political divide.

There was instead talk of creating a new political party to build on his strong presidential showing in the June parliamentary vote.

Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president, has stressed the points that her left-wing economic and social platform have in common with Bayrou.

His support would "of course" translate into ministerial positions in a government, she said Tuesday. "That's what a presidential majority is."

Sarkozy, a former interior minister, directly addressed members of Bayrou's party.

"I say to my friends of the UDF that they are welcome. Each one of them who joins us does so freely," he said at a rally Tuesday night in Grand-Quevilly, in the northern coastal Seine-Maritime region.

A poll released Tuesday meanwhile showed Sarkozy's lead over Royal narrowing.

Sarkozy would win 51 percent of the vote in the May 6 election against 49 percent for Royal, according to the Sofres poll, the first this week to show such a slender gap.

The poll also suggested that Royal would get the lion's share of votes -- 46 percent -- from Bayrou's supporters, while only 25 percent would back Sarkozy. The remaining 29 percent would abstain.

Six other surveys carried out after the first round put Sarkozy in the lead with between 52 and 54 percent of votes.

France is voting for a successor to Jacques Chirac, who has been president since 1995, in an election that will usher in a younger generation of leaders amid much agonising over how to adapt to globalisation and attack high unemployment.

Pledging a "clean break" from the politics of the past, Sarkozy, 52, has centred his campaign around right-wing themes such as the work ethic, national identity, immigration and economic liberalisation.

Royal, 53, promises to protect the country's generous "social model" and her 100-point "presidential pact" contains many new welfare projects to fight poverty and joblessness.

The two candidates are to hold a television debate on May 2, which should be the high point of the second-round campaign.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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