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France decides on right-left showdown

France decides on right-left showdown
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The French political model returned to type on Sunday with the candidates of left and right making it through to the second round of the presidential election. A total of 12 candidates contested the first round, 10 have thus fallen by the wayside and on May 6 the electorate will have to choose between Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal.

Centrist Francois Bayrou ended up being squeezed out by the big players, but he did ensure third place did not go to the far right. Jean Marie Le Pen’s final campaign ended with a decline in the Front Nationale’s vote. The fringe candidates did poorly.

Sarkozy was the first of the major party leaders to speak after the results were announced. His speech to party workers was a mixture of heartfelt thanks, recognition of his rival, and a reminder of his electoral offer:

“By turning out massively to vote, the French have expressed their desire to let no-one decide for them. By putting me in first place…and Ms Royal in second, they have clearly indicated their wish to pursue a debate between two ideas of our nation, two projects for society, two value systems, and two conceptions of politics”.

The candidates’ final platforms will emerge in the next two weeks, as they seek to broaden their appeal to be as inclusive as possible, in order to take on a presidential aura.

Of the two, it is perhaps Sarkozy who has the most to do to create an image of a unifying force that can tolerate dissent and mediate in conflict.

As interior minister and in his campaign he has stressed a no-nonsense tough approach to problems, and has alienated many people, especially the young. It remains to be seen if he is the winner so many have predicted, or if he is an accident waiting to happen.