France’s main presidential candidates both claimed victory after a TV debate last night, but opinion polls and pundits differed as to who won.
Commentators said Nicolas Sarkozy scored points for keeping calm, while Segolene Royal earned kudos for going on the attack.
The most fiery outburst centred on the issue of disabled children in ordinary schools.
“I think it is scandalous that a child with a handicap can not be educated in a ‘normal’ school,” Nicolas Sarkozy said. “It is important for the handicapped child, but it is even more important for other children who come in contact with a different child, to learn that difference is a virtue.”
But Royal countered that it was his government that dismantled measures guaranteeing the presence of disabled children in ordinary schools.
“I think you have reached the heights of political immorality,” Segolene Royal said. “I am scandalised by what I have just heard. Why? When I was a Minister for Education, I came up the handischool plan.”
At that point, the debate became even more heated.
“I do not know why Madame Royal is worked up,” Mr Sarkozy said.
“I am not worked up; I am angry,” Ms Royal said.
“What is it like when you are worked up, then?” Mr Sarkozy said.
“I am never worked up; I am level-headed,” Ms Royal said.
“Really? Well, you have just lost that,” Mr Sarkozy said.
The morning after the debate, early polls showed more than twenty million voters were more impressed by Sarkozy.
But he said he did not think the debate would be decisive:
“I was glad to do it. It went well. I think that it was interesting; there was a respectful atmosphere.”
“Did you think Segolene Royal was aggressive?” a reporter asked.
“Well yes,” Sarkozy said. “It happens. One gets nervous. It is just important not to give into it. It was undoubtedly stress.”
Royal’s camp challenged the reliability of the poll showing Sarkozy was ahead.
And in an interview on French radio, Segolene Royal said Sarkozy reminded her of a rough child in a playground:
“They deliver the hardest blows and then pretend to be the victim,” Ms Royal said. “And I believe that yesterday things were clear, because it is true that I could answer a certain number of things. And for my part I made no personal attack, none.”
As for the seven million voters who both candidates were seeking to impress?
The man they supported in the first round, Francois Bayrou, was quoted as saying he would not vote for Sarkozy.
Four days before Sunday’s second round of voting, only time will tell the effect of his comment and the debate.