Sarkozy jumps to the right in bid to keep presidency

Nicolas Sarkozy has frantically begun courting the far right to help him win France’s presidential runoff, but polls suggest his socialist challenger will prevail regardless.

French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande will beat incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy in the May 6 second-round ballot with about 53% to 56% of the vote, according to polls conducted after the close of Sunday’s first round.

Hollande won the first round with 28.46% of the vote to 27.06% for Sarkozy—with 95% of the votes counted—making it essential for both to win over voters from eliminated candidates in order to emerge triumphant in runoff in two weeks.

Turnout was around 80%.

Far-right candidate Marine le Pen injected an unexpected dose of uncertainty into the final round by securing a record 18.23% of the first-round vote.

Despite the strong showing of the far-right, a CSA poll found that Hollande would beat Sarkozy with a comfortable lead, securing as much as 56% of the votes in the second round.

The first-round results leave Sarkozy in the tricky position of having to conduct a campaign aimed at winning over voters on the far-right and in the centre who could be tempted by Hollande.

It’s just a jump to the right
Sarkozy struck a defiant tone after his setback, steering to the right to try to attract Le Pen voters by vowing to tighten border controls, stop factories leaving France, and uphold law and order, rather than reaching out to centrists.

He challenged Hollande to three live television debates over the next two weeks instead of the customary one. But Socialist aides said Hollande, who has no ministerial experience and is a less accomplished television performer than Sarkozy, had made clear he will accept only one prime-time debate, on May 2.

If Hollande wins, joining a small minority of left-wing governments in Europe, he has promised to renegotiate a European budget discipline treaty signed by Sarkozy. That could presage tension with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made the pact a condition for further assistance to troubled eurozone states.

The prospect of friction is causing some concern in financial markets, as is Hollande’s focus on tax rises over austerity at a time when sluggish growth is threatening France’s ability to meet deficit-cutting goals.

Nevertheless, the deeply unpopular Sarkozy faces an uphill battle; he is the first sitting president to be forced into second place in the first round of a re-election bid.

After five years of leading the world’s fifth economy, a nuclear power and activist UN Security Council member, he could go the way of 10 other eurozone leaders swept from office since the start of the crisis in late 2009.

‘I know I’m being watched’
Hollande has vowed to change the direction of Europe if elected and lead an economic revival with greater social justice.

“My final duty, and I know I’m being watched from beyond our borders, is to put Europe back on the path of growth and employment,” he told supporters in his constituency of Tulle in southwestern France.

Financial market analysts say whoever wins in two weeks’ time will have to impose tougher austerity measures than either candidate has admitted during the campaign, cutting public spending as well as raising taxes to cut the budget deficit.

A parliamentary election to be held in June will further determine the complexion of the next French government.

“These exit results to me suggest that borrowing costs for France will go up, relative to Germany.
We have seen them climbing in recent days and that should continue,” said Simon Derrick, head of currency strategy at Bank of New York Mellon in London.—Reuters

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