Moment of truth looms for a 'desperate' Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told supporters on Friday the "moment of truth" had come. But with the first round of the presidential election less than 48 hours away it appears the pressure is beginning to take its toll on the head of state.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose the last official day of campaigning before Sunday’s first round vote to lash out at election rules - as well as issue an apology to the nation.
The incumbent president is under pressure, with most opinion polls showing him trailing behind Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande by up to three points for the first round.
At his final campaign rally in Nice on Friday evening, the president himself declared that “the moment of truth” had arrived.
“This is the moment when the people of France will tell the truth”, he told supporters.
But with less than 48 hours to go before polling stations open across France it appears the pressure is beginning to tell on the man the French call “Sarko”.
After issuing a vague threat that the election will “teach everyone a lesson” in a speech on Thursday, Sarkozy turned his ire on the rules governing the election.
Sarkozy is furious that all 10 candidates in the first round of voting had to be given equal air time by the media during the one month of official campaigning, despite the fact many will only get a tiny percentage of the vote.
Chief rivals Sarkozy and Hollande have had to share air time with fringe candidates like the extreme left’s Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou as well as the eccentric Jacques Cheminade, who wants to create a thermo-nuclear corridor from earth to Mars.
“Sarkozy getting desperate”
“I have been in a battle, where for the past four weeks it has been me alone against nine other candidates,” Sarkozy complained to the French daily Le Figaro.
Insisting the regulations must be changed in future he said: “It will be the last election with these rules because all this leads to is a caricature of our democracy. The rules reflect equality but not the reality.”
University College London’s Philippe Marliere believes Sarkozy’s anger is a sign of the President’s increasing “desperation”.
“His argument is a bit ironic considering he has been in power for five years with so much media exposure,” said the French politics professor.
“The rule is only for a month and it shows all the candidates are equal before the law. It’s like he’s a child complaining about everyone ganging up on him. It really smacks of desperation,” Marliere added. “It’s a sign of someone who knows he is on course to lose.”
Others, however, believe the election rules could benefit Sarkozy.
Bernard Debré, former minister from Sarkozy’s UMP party believes the coverage given to fringe candidates will help the president.
“The fact there are such absurd candidates could actually reflect well on the president,” Debré said.
Second round is a “different story”
Despite strong showings from far right candidate Marine Le Pen and the far lefts Jean-Luc Melanchon, the president is still expected to reach the second round run-off vote on May 6.
The decisive vote to choose France’s next president will be “a totally different story”, Sarkozy believes.
“I will go from having 10 percent of air time to having 50 percent and we will finally face each other, project against project, personality against personality,” he said.
Marliere believes Sarkozy must take advantage of his time on television if he is to have any chance of convincing French voters to back him in the crucial run-off vote.
“His biggest hope is the live TV debates which are held between the two rounds of voting,” said Marliere.
“They are emotionally and politically charged and there will be a chance to take on Hollande because he believes he’s a better debater,” Marliere said.
“But it would take Hollande to do or say something extremely foolish or be seen to be totally out of his depth for him to turn it around and I don’t think that will happen.”
Asking for forgiveness
Sarkozy also showed an air of contrition on his final day of campaigning once again issuing a “mea culpa” for the “mistakes” he made following his election triumph in 2007.
He was heavily criticised in the French media in the aftermath of that victory for his perceived flashy lifestyle, which many in France thought unbecoming of a head of state.
Pictures of him holidaying on multi-million pound yachts in the Mediterranean and his whirlwind romance with supermodel Carla Bruni earned him the derisive nickname of the ‘bling-bling’ president.
After apologising at the start of this year’s election campaign, Sarkozy felt the need to remind the French public on Friday that he deeply regretted his errors.
In a contrite interview with RTL radio station he claimed to not have immediately understood “the symbolic dimension of the role of president” and accepted that he had lacked a certain amount of “somberness”.
“I will not make the same mistake again, now that I know the job,” he said.
With opinion polls showing Hollande holding as much as a 10 point lead over Sarkozy for the run-off vote, the chances of the president being able to make up for his previous mishaps appear ever slimmer.