23rd Feb 2019

Sarkozy and Royal head for right-left battle

Centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy will face socialist Segolene Royal in a second round battle in two weeks time, following a huge turn out for the first round of French presidential elections on Sunday (22 April).

Official results released early on Monday morning, published in Le Monde, show Mr Sarkozy got 31.11 percent of the vote while Ms Royal managed 25.84 percent.

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The centrist candidate Francois Bayrou pulled 18.55 percent in third place while far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was rebuffed in the polls gaining just 10.51 percent – the first time in 33 years that his share of the vote receded.

The two leading candidates are already back in campaigning mode. Mr Sarkozy has organised a rally in Dijon today while Ms Royal is expected to speak in the town of Valence – both are to come head to head in a televised debate on 2 May.

But the second round predictions are already out.

According to polling company Ipsos, Mr Sarkozy will beat Ms Royal by 54 percent to 46 percent on 6 May with the votes from the centre being more or less equally divided between the two, but with 75 percent of the vote from the far right going to the conservative candidate.

Reacting to his win, Mr Sarkozy said "I invite all French people, whatever their origin, whatever their beliefs, whatever their party to unite with me."

He also called for a "dignified" debate of ideas in the second round.

For her part, Ms Royal told her supporters that she represented those who wanted to "reform France without brutalising it."

"You have given me the responsibility of continuing the fight for change in order that France rises up."

Day of records

Sunday's vote was a day of records. It was the highest turnout (84.5%) for 50 years, while Mr Sarkozy scored the highest vote in 30 years for a conservative in the first round.

Ms Royal is the first woman to get through to the second round and scored the highest for a socialist since Francois Mitterand in 1988.

French voters now have two weeks to sift through the policies of the main contenders before they cast their vote again.

Mr Sarkozy has promised to lower taxes and be tough on crime and immigration, as well as appealing to voters to be proud of being French. However, intemperate language on the issues in the run up to the vote as well as his authoritarian side have made some voters nervous.

Meanwhile, Ms Royal has a 100-point presidential programme but appears to have only vague answers for many of the tough issues. She has laid great emphasis on listening to the French people before deciding policy questions.

She has also picked up on the national identity theme, styling herself as a mother figure saying everyone should put a French flag in their window.

The political leaders on the far-left have already urged voters to support the socialist candidate on 6 May.

Bayrou's pivotal role

Although out of the presidential race, the next two weeks is set to be an interesting time for centrist Mr Bayrou.

According to Europe1 radio "[Mr] Bayrou will be the most sought-after politician in the next two weeks" as both sides wait to see who he will advise his supporters to vote for.

Meanwhile, the first round vote shows that voters are prepared to give the centre-right and the centre-left another chance at proving they can bring the country out of its gloomy economic situation - with unemployment running at 8.4 percent (and closer to 20% among young people) and a low growth rate.

It also banished the bitter memory of 2002 when a disaffected electorate either failed to vote or cast its vote for minor candidates on the left, allowing a shock first round victory for Jean-Marie Le Pen.

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