Sarkozy hits back at rivals' TV debate

29th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 29, 2007 (AFP) - France's rightwing presidential frontrunner, Nicolas Sarkozy, slammed a television debate on the weekend between his Socialist rival and a bested candidate whose supporters' votes are up for grabs.

PARIS, April 29, 2007 (AFP) - France's rightwing presidential frontrunner, Nicolas Sarkozy, slammed a television debate on the weekend between his Socialist rival and a bested candidate whose supporters' votes are up for grabs.

"It is contrary to the spirit of our institutions," he told the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche after the Saturday face-to-face between Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou.

Sarkozy, a former interior minister, is to vie with Royal in an election duel on May 6 that will decide which one will succeed Jacques Chirac as president.

Royal, who is fighting to become France's first woman head of state, is trying to woo supporters of Bayrou, who was knocked out of the race after coming third in a first round of the elections held April 22.

"The first round exists to select two candidates, so that two political options are presented to the French people," Sarkozy said.

He also complained that accusations he had pressured media to scrap the debate amounted to a "dirty view of politics".

"What aren't I accused of in this campaign? Lies, insults, defamation should not be elements in a democratic debate," he railed.

According to an Ifop poll, Sarkozy would win the run-off with 52.5 percent of votes compared with 47.5 percent for Royal.

But the Socialist candidate has an eye on winning over some of the 6.8 million voters who supported Bayrou in the first round and now hold the key to the outcome.

A new poll showed that 53 percent of Bayrou's voters would back Royal in the run-off and 47 percent would vote for Sarkozy.

Saturday's debate in Paris between Royal and Bayrou was marked by politeness and held flashes of light humour.

"This is an unprecedented event that underscores the modernisation of politics and the need to break out of confrontation of one bloc against another," Royal said in the forum.

But Bayrou reiterated that he would not rally behind her ahead of the run-off even if he agreed on the need to reach out to a broad electorate.

He declared he was in "profound disagreement" with the Socialist on her economic proposals, which he argued relied too heavily on state intervention.

But analysts said Royal had succeeded in showing that she was open to discussion with a politician who did not share all of her ideas, addressing a theme that was central to Bayrou's campaign -- transcending the left-right divide.

"It went quite well for her," commented Dominique Reynie of the Institute for Political Studies. "They were polite to each other, which is an idea dear to Bayrou's voters who want disagreements to be treated in a civilised manner."

"Prospects for an alliance at the centre appear more promising" following the debate, said political scientist Philippe Braud.

Sarkozy, who was campaigning in the northern town of Valenciennes at the time, initially dismissed the debate as "small-time scheming" and said his rivals were simply "blathering on, but I'm here on the ground."

His subsequent comments to the newspaper, though, showed how nettled he was.

The candidate of Chirac's governing party, Sarkozy has also made overtures to Bayrou's voters and has welcomed 19 of the 29 elected deputies of Bayrou's small Union for French Democracy (UDF) into his camp.

Royal will now face off with Sarkozy in a televised debate on Wednesday evening that is expected to be the high point of a months-long presidential campaign dominated by calls for change after 12 years under Chirac.

The 53-year-old Socialist has promised to protect France's generous "social model" and her 100-point "presidential pact" contains many new welfare projects to fight poverty and joblessness.

Sarkozy, 52, has centred his campaign around such themes as the work ethic, national identity, immigration and economic liberalisation, and vowed a "clean break" with the past.

He said of the upcoming debate that he would not be combative.

"I will be myself. Politics isn't war. Democracy is tolerance, and if needed, I'll have enough for two! And the fact she's a woman won't change a thing," he told the newspaper.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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