French voters head undecided to polls

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Disappointed with the candidates or planning a last-minute tactical switch: as the clock ticks down to round one of France's presidential election, one in three voters is still unsure who to back.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - Disappointed with the candidates or planning a last-minute tactical switch: as the clock ticks down to round one of France's presidential election, one in three voters is still unsure who to back.

With the top three candidates -- right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou -- just points apart in the opinion polls, experts agree Sunday's vote is too close to call.

After a flamboyant start, Royal's campaign to become France's first woman president has faltered, leading some left-wingers to turn to Bayrou, who polls say would have a strong chance of beating Sarkozy in the run-off vote on May 6.

"Traditionally I've voted on the left, for the Socialists. But I have a problem with Segolene Royal. I can't stand her. So I'm thinking, well, why not Bayrou -- but I'm still not sure," said Francois, a 49-year-old dentist from central France, who did not want his surname published.

"If your starting point is 'anyone but Sarko' -- if like me you think he's dangerous -- then the most effective vote is Bayrou," argued Francois, who did not believe the 53-year-old Royal capable of taking on Sarkozy, 52.

"Sego just seems artificial, pure marketing, it sounds all wrong. She just recites her stuff with a fixed smile."

He said the 55-year-old Bayrou, who proposes to set up a unity government of left and right, "is no revolutionary, but he has the merit of saying: 'Let's take talent where we find it and do something. Why not, after all?"

Jerome Perani, a 37-year-old marketing executive from a Paris technology firm who voted for the Socialists in 2002, also said he was considering voting Bayrou as a "purely tactical choice -- almost like game theory."

"I think I'll make my mind up in the polling booth, based on the opinions around me and the latest polls," he said. Perani said he was "deeply unsatisfied" with the campaign and was "voting for the least bad option, since I don't want Sarkozy elected."

Pushing tactical voting to the extreme, Francois said he is considering "waiting for the first estimated results on the Internet at 6:00 pm before going to vote."

According to a BVA poll, some six million voters say they will make up their mind on election day, but according to Jerome Sainte-Marie of the BVA institute the overall number of undecided is on par with the last election -- 32 compared to 29 percent.

"What is interesting is the number of voters who say they could vote either Bayrou or Royal -- the creation of this corridor between the left and the centre-right," he said.

There is also head-scratching in the opposite camp, however, among voters alarmed by Sarkozy's rightward swing during the campaign, and what they see as his abrasive personality.

"What I like about Sarkozy is his belief in meritocracy, his firm-handedness," said Olivier Pautret, a 38-year-old tennis coach. "But what I don't like are his very right-wing ideas and his vision of society."

Pautret says he is considering a Bayrou vote "for want of a better option."

Isabelle Billon, 25, a manager in an industrial firm, also believes "Sarkozy is capable of carrying out reforms but his approach to security issues and his super-repressive side freak me out."

"On the other hand, Bayrou doesn't really inspire me. If I can bring myself to believe that Sarkozy is not a raving madman and that he won't throw everyone in jail, I will probably vote for him."

Similar story from Noemie Brion, a 25-year-old graphic designer: "I would have liked to vote for Sarkozy but his tyrannical, power-hungry side scares me.

"I'm worried power would go to his head, and I have a problem with his line on immigration, his methods are too brutal."

"That said, he has the shoulders to be president, whereas with Bayrou I'm not so sure."

And then there are the great doubters, like Youcef Dassa, a 23-year-old English student wavering between Sarkozy and Royal.

"Both are interesting characters, with convincing ideas. I like Sarkozy's determined side, and his experience, but his ideas are too radical, too violent.

"Segolene Royal has a more flexible side, she seems more open but her proposals are a bit unclear. So I don't know. It will be definitely be one of the two -- but which one?"

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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