Royal battles for second-round election spot

16th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 16, 2007 (AFP) - The Socialist candidate Segolene Royal on Monday headed into the last week of campaigning for France's presidential election, battling to secure a place in the expected run-off against the right-wing favourite Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, April 16, 2007 (AFP) - The Socialist candidate Segolene Royal on Monday headed into the last week of campaigning for France's presidential election, battling to secure a place in the expected run-off against the right-wing favourite Nicolas Sarkozy.

With at least a third of the electorate still undecided ahead of Sunday's first round vote, the final stretch of rallies and debates was to play a crucial role in anchoring swing voters.

Opinion polls put Royal, 53, in second place behind Sarkozy, 52, but the Socialist, due Monday in the western city of Nantes, faces a tough rearguard challenge from the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.

Surveys suggest that the 55-year-old Bayrou -- unlike Royal -- stands a good chance of beating the right-wing former interior minister if he makes it to the run-off vote on May 6, boosting his appeal on the left.

"For left-wing voters, the priority is to defeat Sarkozy," said Roland Cayrol, director of the CSA polling institute. "Their problem is finding the most effective vote to do so."

"The centre-left is the priority target in this final phase of the campaign, because it can make the difference," said Cayrol, who believes that "everything is still possible" in Sunday's vote.

Sarkozy's opponents accuse him of veering to the far-right to poach voters from National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, and they say he is a divisive character with no chance of securing the unity needed to reform the country.

Bayrou Monday repeated the accusation that Sarkozy was "dragging the republican camp towards words, phrases and acts that belong to the far-right," saying it was "easy to pull a people downwards into feelings of confrontation, hate, base instincts."

Over the weekend Royal was forced to slap down calls from three senior figures in her own camp for an electoral alliance between the Socialist Party (PS) and Bayrou's Union for French Democracy (UDF).

Speaking late Sunday in the western city of Rennes, Royal said she had "nothing to negotiate, no deal to strike" with either of the candidates of the right.

"I intend to remain free, as I have been since the start of the campaign," she said.

Bayrou has positioned himself as a candidate who rejects the left-right divide, but since its creation in 1978 his party has been in almost permanent alliance with the right.

Royal called on "the left, but also all republicans in search of justice and social peace to mobilise behind my candidacy in the first round, so that this election is not wasted, as in 2002."

Five years ago, Le Pen -- who currently polls fourth in the race -- beat the Socialist candidate into the run-off against Jacques Chirac, and commentators warn that the Socialist Party would not survive a second eviction from the race.

"There are fears the old (left-wing) alliance, which still represents roughly half of the country, will be kept out of the second round once again -- and wiped off the national map in the process," wrote the newspaper Liberation.

Socialist leader Francois Hollande has urged all left-wingers tempted by the hard-left or centre to cast a "useful vote" in Royal's favour, warning her place in the second round was not guaranteed.

Analysts said that Royal needs to maintain her left-wing credentials ahead of the first round in order to stop votes leaking to far-left candidates. But she has to keep a door open to Bayrou in the hope of an endorsement from his camp if she qualifies for round two.

The centrist -- who initially welcomed the suggestion of an alliance by Socialist elder statesman Michel Rocard as a sign "things were moving" -- on Monday also ruled out any deal with Royal before the first round.

"It is inconceivable for there to be an alliance in a presidential election before the vote has taken place," Bayrou told France Inter radio, refusing to say if he would back Royal in a run-off.

France is choosing a successor to the 74-year-old Chirac, in an election widely seen as the most exciting and important in a quarter of a century.

Twelve candidates are in the running, including three Trotskyites, a Communist, a Green and anti-capitalist campaigner Jose Bove, a hunters' rights campaigner and a Catholic nationalist.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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