French presidential elections will be referendum on Sarkozy, the man
The first round of French presidential elections are Sunday. Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is facing the lowest approval ratings of a modern president, largely due to distaste with his style, not platform.
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But in recent days Sarkozy has shown signs of losing his political mojo, even after large rallies in central Paris in which he unusually humbled himself, calling for the French to “help me to protect you.”Skip to next paragraph
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Seven out of eight polling firms have Hollande with at least a 10 point lead over Sarkozy on May 6. Even former president Jacques Chirac, a member of Sarkozy’s party who was his mentor at one point, has made it clear he is voting for Hollande – citing Sarkozy as a divisive force in France.
"We do not share the same vision of France, we do not agree on the basics," Mr. Chirac, a symbol of the moderate center right, said of Sarkozy in his recent memoirs.
In an interview with Le Figaro this week, Sarkozy argued that the real fight begins after round one. “I am engaged in a fight where, for the past four weeks, I have been alone against nine candidates…. [Round two] will be a whole other story. I will go from 10 percent to 50 percent of airtime. We will finally be fighting platform to platform, character to character.”
Should the flamboyant and irrepressible Sarkozy lose, he will be the first incumbent since the 1970s not to be voted into a second term. Should the self-styled low-key moderate Hollande win, it will put the Socialist party in power for the first time in 17 years.
Rejection of Sarkozy is personal
Sarkozy is now in the awkward position of having to garner votes both from the far right and the center to win the race.
“The defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy, if it does take place, is not based on rationality. It's not based on a judgment of his record, but based on a rejection of his person,” argued leading Paris intellectual Dominique Moisi in a talk at London’s Chatham House earlier this week.
“It's totally emotional. To some extent, it is totally unfair and irrational. But Nicolas Sarkozy has violated fundamental unwritten rules of the French political system,” Mr. Moisi said, citing Sarkozy’s penchant for constantly crossing the line between his public and private life.
“If you look at the public opinion polls, you have the feeling that a majority of Frenchmen can't stand the idea of seeing the same man invading their living and dining room through the television screen for five more years,” Moisi added. “It is as simple as that. It's not a question of program, it's a question… of personal style.”
Surprises are not out of the question. In 2002 the French electorate was shocked when, despite months of polling to the contrary, far-right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen snuck into the runoff. But analysts say the atmosphere and conditions are quite different ten years later.
The French elections allow for exit polls, but these will be banned in France until 8 p.m. Paris time, when the polls close.