Sarkozy has results edge in presidential duel

22nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy is a clear favourite to be France's next president after Sunday's first round vote showed a critical fall in left wing support, analysts said.

PARIS, April 22, 2007 (AFP) - Right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy is a clear favourite to be France's next president after Sunday's first round vote showed a critical fall in left wing support, analysts said.

The heads of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) scored some 30 percent in the multi-candidate stage of the election -- the highest first round score for any candidate since 1988.

The level of support will give Sarkozy a powerful lift as he enters two weeks of campaigning leading up to the May 6 runoff against socialist Segolene Royal, according to analysts.

"It's clear there is a big advantage for Sarkozy. The whole left-right balance in the country has shifted. It is really a historic moment," said Jean-Philippe Roy, politics professor at Tours university.

Simple arithmetic works in Sarkozy's favour, they said.

Royal scored some 26 percent of the first round vote. For round two she needs to rally her camp and voters for the six minor and far left candidates.

But in this election -- as opposed to the 2002 vote when the non-socialist left scored 26 percent -- Trotskyites, Greens, Communists and anti-capitalists made up just 11 percent of the total. This means that the combined left made only around 37 percent.

"What we have set up for round two is a clear right-left showdown, but it is a showdown which I find it hard to see how the left can win," said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Affairs.

"The left are clearly a minority in the country. If you add right, far-right and half the centre, Sarkozy is in an extremely comfortable position. His decision to court the far-right vote has clearly paid off," he said.

Sarkozy was widely accused by the left of trying to poach voters from far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, with his tough talk about national identity and crime.

Le Pen's vote collapsed to just 11 percent from nearly 17 percent in 2002 -- when he qualified for round two -- which suggests that Sarkozy's tactic succeeded.

Focus in the second round was certain to focus on the 18 percent of the electorate who voted for the centrist "third man" Francois Bayrou.

Bayrou ran as an anti-establishment candidate pledging to break the left-right divide. Polls showed he had a good chance of beating Sarkozy if he qualified for round two, and his first round voters included many left-wingers who wanted to keep out the UMP leader.

However Roy predicted Bayrou's vote will split along the lines of two thirds for Sarkozy and one third to Royal -- giving a clear advantage to the right-winger.

"Royal's tactic now is clear," said Roy. "She has to pose as the 'Anyone but Sarkozy' candidate, drawing to her side all of those who see him as a dangerous figure for France. We can expect to see major mobilisation on the streets."

Although Sarkozy has the lead, analysts agreed that the race is not yet won. This is because of the deep mistrust with which the former interior minister is regarded by many voters -- even by some who support his ideas.

"We have today a political situation I have never seen: a man who is highly likely to be the next president but who provokes unprecedented levels of hatred and rejection," said Dominique Reynie, professor at the Paris School of Political Sciences.

For Roy, "This is the moment for Sarkozy to start talking to the French people -- not just to his own camp. He's got to look like a president, which in France means someone who has the nation behind him. From now on it's not his policies, but his personality, that's the issue."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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