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Three-Way French Race Becomes Aggressive
Centrist Bayrou could play defining role
Demian West (demianwest)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-23 10:16 (KST)   
The upcoming French presidential elections are shaping up to be a very tight race. In the French system of runoff elections the first round, or ballot, is set for April 22. Center-right leader Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist leader Segolene Royal are both threatened by the centrist, Francois Bayrou, but the first round is turning into an "anti-Sarkozy primary" between Royal and Bayrou, according to the daily "Liberation."

A segment of the left electorate may just opt for the contender with the better chance of trouncing Sarkozy, who is widely criticized for his public courting of the far right Jean-Marie Le Pen's supporters. Accordingly, Sarkozy declared that, if elected, he would establish a ministry for immigration and national identity, which sounds like the very essence of far-right policy, whereupon the full range of the political spectrum and French human rights groups reviled him for appealing to racism.

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In the last few days, polls have shown the three leaders to be within a spread of 10 percentage points, so that no one could foretell the frontrunner in the second ballot, to be held on May 6. It would be in Sarkozy's interest if Royal takes the first round, defeating Bayrou, since it is felt that Sarkozy could quite conceivably win against Royal in the second round. Sarkozy is less favored against the centrist Bayrou. As was to be expected, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) and the Socialist Party have launched a very aggressive campaign against Bayrou, leader of the UDF (Union for French Democracy), the so-called "third man," their greatest threat.

Some from the UMP compare Bayrou to a video game -- a virtual personality announcing his virtual program. Royal's political advisor Dominique Strauss-Kahn calls Bayrou "an absolute delusion." One can see that Strauss-Kahn and the Socialists are not far from the point of Le Pen's put-down, "Bayrou is a bubble" referring clearly to the Internet. The fight has become quite visibly ferocious against the third man, because none of his contenders wants him to be the next first man on the evening of May 6.

The 12 official candidates have recently been announced. Five weeks before the first ballot, a recent poll gave the former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy a seven-point lead over his Socialist contender, Segolene Royal. Moreover, both Royal and Bayrou have committed to a Sixth Republic that will renovate aging French institutions. Bayrou has lost a few points in the polls, admittedly in the provinces. Meanwhile, at the Zenith de Paris thousands gave Bayrou a triumphal acclamation at the recent UDF convention should the "fourth horse," Le Pen, stagnate definitively in the polls.

Many voters want to eliminate Royal and her Blairist policies, but also fear the nationalist stance of Sarkozy. Furthermore, what is at stake in the ballot is to preserve a comfortable way of life, which is threatened by unemployment, excessive taxation and overwhelming healthcare costs. Finally, the French people fear adventurist policies.

As Royal seems to express weakness and vacillation, Sarkozy's arguments are more systematic but are seen to be so far-right as to threaten the democracy. Thus a third of voters, including the protest voters, are tempted by Bayrou's promise of governing with the left and right together, which some feel as impracticable. Finally, this election could be decided at the very last moment, inside the very polling booth.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Demian West

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