Sarkozy and Royal renew campaign hostilities

23rd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 23, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal renewed political hostilities Monday within hours of winning places in the second round election showdown.

PARIS, April 23, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal renewed political hostilities Monday within hours of winning places in the second round election showdown.

Both staked out their positions after the first round results were announced late Sunday and were to start a gruelling new series of campaign meetings on Monday.

With the election first round attracting a near record turnout of 84.6 percent, right winger Sarkozy led the field with 31.11 percent of the vote, while socialist Royal followed on 25.84 percent.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou came a distant third on 18.55 percent, while the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was fourth on 10.51 percent. None of the other candidates gained more than five percent, according to final figures from the interior ministry.

Olivier Besancenot (Trotskyite) won 4.11 percent, Gerard Schivardi (Trotskyite) 0.34 percent, Arlette Laguiller (Trotskyite) 1.34 percent, anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove 1.32 percent, Green party candidate Dominique Voynet 1.57 percent and Communist leader Marie-George Buffet 1.94 percent.

The Catholic nationalist Philippe de Villiers won 2.24 percent, and Frederic Nihous, candidate of the hunters' party, secured 1.15 percent.

The figures do not include the ballots of about 820,000 French voters overseas which will be published later in the day.

The deciding left-right finale to find a successor to President Jacques Chirac will be on May 6.

An opinion poll by IPSOS after the first round predicted Sarkozy would beat Royal by 54 percent to 46 in the run-off, and Sarkozy appeared confident at party headquarters in Paris.

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

The 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.

Royal, aiming to become France's first woman president, pledged to be the champion of those who want to change France "without brutalising it".

She told supporters at a post-election rally in western France: "We have a clear choice between two, very different projects for society.

"I call on all those who believe it is possible to reform France without brutalising it, who want a triumph of human values over the stockmarket, who want an end to the painful rise of insecurity and precarity, to come together."

Her campaign has concentrated on promises to change France without unraveling its generous social model.

The two will put their starkly different visions to a public test in a face-to-face televised debate on May 2.

Before then, the Sarkozy camp said that the Union for a Popular Movement leader would appear in Dijon on Monday and Rouen on Tuesday and have a series of television appearances this week around more public campaign events.

The Socialist Party was also organising a rally for Royal on Monday and she was to be in Montpellier on Tuesday and Lyon on Thursday.

Royal's result was a huge relief for the opposition Socialist Party which had feared a repeat of the 2002 shock when then prime minister Lionel Jospin was humiliatingly knocked out of the race in the first round by far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

This time Le Pen was in shock after he came in fourth, behind Sarkozy, Royal and the centrist Francois Bayrou

Le Pen admitted he had made an "error of judgment" after his worst performance since his first election campaign in 1974.

Analysts say this fifth election campaign is likely to be his last, though the 78-year-old National Front leader refused to say what his plans were.

Five far-left candidates evicted in round one urged their supporters to vote for Royal against right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy. They had a combined score of 10 percent on Sunday.

But Sarkozy and Royal will both go all out to court the more than 18 percent of the electorate who backed Bayrou in the first round.

Though his small Union for French Democracy (UDF) party has for years been allied to the right, the first round campaign saw Bayrou veer leftwards.

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

France is picking a successor to the 74-year-old Chirac, who has been president since 1995. Amid widespread agonising over how to adapt to globalisation and attack high unemployment, the election has become the latest centre of debate over the country's future.

French editorialists applauded the massive turnout Sunday and said the prospect of a clear left-right battle between Sarkozy and Royal was a sign of democratic renewal.

Jean-Marie Colombani, editor-in-chief of Le Monde newspaper, said the high turnout showed that the French had undergone a "democratic awakening" and that "people wanted to wipe out the memory" of Le Pen's success in 2002.

Christophe Barbier, editor of L'Express news magazine, said Sarkozy should have the advantage on May 6, counting on carry-over votes from Le Pen and Bayrou.

"But nothing is decided. Segolene Royal has one important weapon: the 'Anyone but Sarko' option. We can expect a second round which brings out all his character faults and ideological excesses."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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