Sarkozy favourite as France votes for new president

6th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 6, 2007 (AFP) - French voters cast ballots Sunday in a presidential election expected to hand victory to rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy, who has promised a rebirth of the nation through reforms and "hard work".

PARIS, May 6, 2007 (AFP) - French voters cast ballots Sunday in a presidential election expected to hand victory to rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy, who has promised a rebirth of the nation through reforms and "hard work".

*sidebar1*Some 44.5 million voters are eligible to take part in the election pitting Sarkozy, the 52-year-old son of a Hungarian immigrant, against Socialist Segolene Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president.

The election is to choose a successor to Jacques Chirac who is stepping down after 12 years in office and caps a campaign that left voters a stark left-right choice to fix France's problems.

Sarkozy, the clear favorite in public opinion polls, is proposing tax cuts and incentives to work harder, and advocates tougher controls on immigration as part of what he has termed a "clean break" with the politics of the past.

Royal, a 53-year-old former adviser to president Francois Mitterrand, wants to safeguard generous social protection, create jobs and carry out sweeping institutional reform to bring government closer to the people.

With the final polls showing Sarkozy on course to win the election, Royal on Friday warned that his victory could re-ignite violence in the high-immigrant suburbs following riots in late 2005.

Royal has described Sarkozy as a "dangerous" leader who would divide rather than unite the French people and urged voters to show that the polls "were lying."

Sarkozy, a former interior minister, is hated by many Arab and African immigrants in the suburbs that were rocked by three weeks of rioting in late 2005 in which hundreds of buildings and thousands of cars were burned.

His tough approach to law and order and pledges to purge the suburbs of the "racaille" or rabble has turned him into an enemy of the poor neighborhoods where many descendants of north African immigrants say they are shut out of mainstream France.

Security has been stepped up in Paris and the suburbs to prevent possible violence in the event of a Sarkozy victory, with some 3,000 police on alert for trouble.

The Journal du Dimanche weekly carried the headline: "An election that will shake up France."

Under a clear blue sky, early voters turned out at a polling station on Ile Saint-Louis, in the heart of Paris.

Benoit Labouge, a museum worker, who voted for Royal said he was concerned by France's economic and social problems, saying "France is in a serious state, a dangerous situation."

Francois, who declined to give his last name, said he was voting for Sarkozy because he felt that "instinctively" he was better suited for the post.

Royal has battled throughout the campaign to dispel doubts about her presidential stature, while Sarkozy faced voter concerns that his hyper-active personality was a liability.

The election marks a shift to a younger generation of leaders born after World War II, who are promising to tackle the huge national debt, high unemployment and simmering tensions in the suburbs.

One million voters in French overseas departments and expatriates began casting ballots on Saturday.

The high point of the second round campaign was Wednesday's live televised debate between Sarkozy and Royal, watched by some 20 million viewers.

Royal showed an unexpectedly aggressive streak in the debate, at one point accusing Sarkozy of "political immorality."

Her attacks won praise from supporters, but surveys subsequently found most voters thought Sarkozy the more convincing.

A first round of voting was held on April 22 marked by a near-record turnout of 84 percent. Ten of the 12 candidates in that election were eliminated, allowing Sarkozy and Royal to advance.

The run-off focused on winning over the 6.8 million voters who backed centrist Francois Bayrou, who campaigned on a platform that rejected the left-right divide and called for a unity government of moderates from both camps.

Bayrou said he would not vote for Sarkozy, whom he denounced as having a "taste for intimidation and threats", even though he did not explicitly throw his support behind Royal.

Polling stations close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), with first unofficial results from exit polls expected soon after.

Confident of a victory, Sarkozy's supporters are planning a celebration near Paris' famed Champs Elysees late Sunday with rock star Johnny Hallyday, the French Elvis, and rai artist Faudel set to appear.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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