Sarkozy and Royal back on campaign trail

24th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 24, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential contenders Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal were back on the campaign trail Monday, reaching out to centrist voters who could tip the balance in the May 6 runoff vote.

PARIS, April 24, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential contenders Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal were back on the campaign trail Monday, reaching out to centrist voters who could tip the balance in the May 6 runoff vote.

But while Royal reached out to the third-placed centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, Sarkozy ruled out cutting a deal that he said would mean compromising his political beliefs.

Speaking at a rally late Monday in the southeastern region of Valence a day after the first round vote, the leftwinger Royal called for a public dialogue with Bayrou on how to renew the political system. Bayrou won 18.57 percent of the vote in Sunday's first round.

"For the moment, this is not an alliance," she added. It was "an appeal beyond the left to all those who have denounced the outgoing system."

But a rally in Dijon, eastern France, Sarkozy took a different line. "I will not cut a deal at the expense of my convictions," he told thousands of cheering supporters in the city.

Clearly positioned on the right and left of the political divide, both Sarkozy and Royal are desperate to secure those voters who backed Bayrou in round one.

Both the remaining candidates know that his supporters will be kingmakers in the deciding round.

Though his small Union for French Democracy (UDF) party has normally been allied to the right, Bayrou veered leftwards in the campaign -- and there was widespread speculation about how his electorate will divide up.

Bayrou is to make a public statement on Wednesday, his office said, in which he should reveal if he is making an endorsement.

France is voting for a successor to 74-year-old Jacques Chirac -- president since 1995 -- in an election that has become the focus of impassioned debate over the nation's future direction.

Sarkozy, the 52-year-old head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), has pledged a "clean break" from the politics of the past consensus. His campaign has centered around themes such as the work ethic, national identity and economic liberalisation.

Royal, who would be France's first woman president, promises to protect the country's generous social welfare system and has tabled left-wing economic policies.

The 53-year-old told supporters Sunday night that she opposes a "France ruled by the law of the strongest and the most brutal."

Sarkozy's tough-talking persona has sparked widespread fears that he lacks the temperament to be head of state, while critics say Royal lacks the necessary experience.

Fresh from their victory in Sunday's multi-candidate first round, the two rivals embarked on a gruelling schedule of rallies and television appearances to build support for the May 6 vote.

The two camps also held discussions over a television debate on May 2, which should be the high point of the second round campaign.

In a clear bid to broaden his appeal, Sarkozy's first stop Monday was at a home for battered women in Paris, where he spent an hour hearing the problems of a group of residents.

"I want to take responsibility for those who suffer. I want to say to those whose lives are broken, whose lives are smashed -- that there is hope," he said.

Sarkozy was accompanied by Simone Veil, 79, a Holocaust survivor who sponsored France's first law legalising abortion.

Five opinion polls taken since Sunday's vote showed that Sarkozy is clear favourite to be the next president, with a lead of between four and eight percentage points over Royal.

Sarkozy won 31.18 percent of Sunday's vote ahead of Royal on 25.97 percent. Combined with a near record turn-out of 83.77 percent, the result was hailed as a sign of the public's eagerness for a clear left-right presidential choice.

The first round vote was an almost exact reverse of the dramatic election of 2002, which was marked by low turn-out, strong support for the extremes of left and right and the shock breakthrough by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to the second round, where he was overwhelmed by Chirac.

This time turn-out was almost as high as the 1965 record, and the minor candidates of the extremes were crushed. Le Pen, at 78 fighting in perhaps his last election, fell back to 10.44 percent from nearly 17 percent in 2002.

Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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