6 May 2012

France votes in presidential run-off

As the French go to the polls, President Sarkozy is blaming his waning popularity on the financial crisis, austerity measures, and a media “alliance” with Socialist front-runner François Hollande.

As France goes to the polls, President Sarkozy is blaming his waning popularity on the financial crisis, austerity measures, and a media

Punchy Sarkozy supporters pelted water bottles at two French TV presenters during a rally in Toulon on Thursday, striking Thierry Arnaud in the face and curtailing a live BFM TV broadcast. Mr Arnaud’s crime? He and his co-presenter were “collaborators” of Mr Hollande, the Sarkozy camp charged.

Mr Arnaud complained he was “molested in practically every meeting” by Mr Sarkozy’s rowdy supporters, forcing the president to apologise for his staff’s behaviour.

Mr Sarkozy did, but then lashed out: “I would like everyone to also understand the attitude of people who are exasperated by a form of intolerance or bias (in French media).”

‘The dangerous Monsieur Hollande’

Nicolas Paul Stephane Sarkozy, 57, 23rd president of the French republic, is facing the fight of his political life when France goes to the polls on Sunday to choose between him and his Socialist rival, described by the Economist magazine as “the rather dangerous Monsieur Hollande.”

The men were separated by a narrow margin in the polls late in the week, with Mr Hollande four points ahead. Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou has declared he will vote for Mr Hollande, complaining the conservative president was pandering to the far right and xenophobic.

Since 2007, Mr Sarkozy, has ridden the political wave that brought him into power as a media darling five years ago. It now threatens to drown “President Bling Bling” and swallow him whole.

Mr Sarkozy has promised to leave politics if Francois Hollande wins today’s presidential election. But he is not leaving quietly.

‘A denial of democracy’

Mr Sarkozy has repeatedly claimed “intermediary bodies”, including the media, are preventing him from connecting to “the people”.

“We have witnessed a veritable denial of democracy (in the media coverage of this campaign),” the head of his UMP party, Jean-François Copé, said. “It’s not normal that (reports) are so negative each time they speak of Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Mr Sarkozy, a seasoned politician, must view his attack on the media as risky business, however. The front cover of Marianne magazine has already depicted him as Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Pétain.

Of course, it is not all his fault.

“We are seeing real punishment of those governments which were saddled with handling the economic and financial crisis. And France is no exception,” said Jorge Crespo, a political science professor in Madrid.


But the spectacular rise of Mr Hollande from the backroom of the Socialist Party amid the sex scandal engulfing Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been swift and worrying to the Sarkozy camp.

Mr Hollande has been spun as a reform-minded moderate, a compromise seeker, and a figure sometimes likened to former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

That was before Mr Hollande, 57, announced his plan for a 75 per cent tax on millionaires. But amid much speculation that a left-leaning leader would ignite ‘eurogedden’ and send rich Parisiennes fleeing to ‘Angleterre’, the bond markets have been sanguine about Mr Hollande’s chances.

“Two days before the elections, France borrows 10-year debt at the lowest rates in months,” Mr Hollande said on Friday. “Markets aren’t scared of us.”

Neither, Mr Hollande hopes, are voters.