Sarkozy and Royal head to presidency runoff

22nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - A dramatic surge by French voters hungry for change on Sunday swept rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal into the runoff for the presidency.

PARIS, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - A dramatic surge by French voters hungry for change on Sunday swept rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal into the runoff for the presidency.

Sego vs. Sarko

With the first round of the election attracting a near record turnout, Sarkozy got around 30 percent, according to projections, followed by Royal on some 26 percent, to set up an exciting left-right showdown on May 6.

Sarkozy told cheering supporters he wanted to rally the French people behind a "new dream" after he claimed first place.

Francois Hollande, the Socialist party leader and Royal's partner, said he hoped Sarkozy's dream would not turn into a "nightmare" for France.

The much-touted challenge from centrist Francois Bayrou failed to materialise as he fell back to 18 percent. Far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen scored some 11 percent and failed to live up to his own predictions that he would repeat his feat from the last election and reach the second round.

None of the eight other candidates won more than five percent of the vote.

The turnout of about 84 percent was just short of a record set in 1962, indicating the nation's passionate involvement in its search for a new generation of leaders after President Jacques Chirac stands down.

In hot spring weather, there were long queues at polling stations across the country.

There were widespread complaints about electronic voting machines which were used as an experiment in some towns for the first time in a French presidential election.

The Socialist Party, Communist Party and the Greens demanded that the machines be withdrawn for the second round, calling them a "catastrophe".

Royal's result was a huge relief for the opposition Socialist Party (PS), which had feared a repeat of the 2002 first round shock when then prime minister Lionel Jospin was humiliatingly knocked out of the race by Le Pen.

Her appeals for a "useful vote" bore fruit as support for far-left candidates  -- who scored 26 percent in 2002 -- collapsed to around 10 percent.

Sarkozy, head of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), appeared to have poached many votes from Le Pen.

Opinion polls have consistently put him ahead in any second round duel against Royal and he appeared confident at party headquarters in Paris after voting ended.

"My dear compatriots, I want only one thing: to gather the French people around a new French dream," he said to wild cheers.

France is picking a successor to the 74-year-old Chirac -- president since 1995 -- in an election that has become the focus of vibrant debate about the country's future.

The impending "Sarko-Sego" confrontation will give the country's 44.5 million voters a clear choice between starkly opposing political programmes.

Sarkozy, 52, a tough-talking former interior minister, has promised a "clean break" from France's political consensus, pledging to reduce the number of state employees, restrict trade union powers and liberalise the economy by cutting taxes.

He has also promised a "ministry of immigration and national identity" -- a highly controversial proposal that led to charges that he was moving onto the territory of Le Pen's National Front.

Accused of introducing harsh police methods and provocatively describing young delinquents as "rabble", Sarkozy is hated in the high-immigration suburbs which were the scene of riots in 2005. There have been warnings of more violence if he becomes president.

A former environment minister, Royal, 53, is the first woman to have a serious chance of becoming French head of state, having established her popularity last year via an innovative campaign of "participative debates" and Internet discussions.

Though she keeps her distance from the Socialist hierarchy, her 100-point manifesto contains a series of new welfare spending pledges and she has vowed to protect France's generous social model.

The two candidates were expected to launch immediately into the second round campaign, with the focus on wooing the 44 percent of voters who backed other candidates in the first round.

Immediate speculation centres on whether Bayrou would endorse Sarkozy or Ropal. Though his small Union for French Democracy (UDF) party has for years been allied to the right, the first round campaign saw him veer sharply leftwards.

Last week Socialist elder statesman Michel Rocard openly called for a pact between Royal and Bayrou to form an anti-Sarkozy front for round two.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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