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France set to vote for president as Europe looks on
A crisis-weary Europe is keenly waiting to see who will be France's next president as Socialist favourite François Hollande challenges incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off vote.
Some 46 million French voters are set to cast their ballot on Sunday in what has been billed as the country’s tightest presidential race in decades. Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy has been trailing his Socialist challenger François Hollande for months, but polls suggest a last-minute 2% swing in voters’ intentions could be enough to see the conservative incumbent snatch a second term in office.
The first round of voting on April 22 saw François Hollande claim 28.63% of the vote to Sarkozy’s 27.18%, with third-placed Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front garnering a surprise 17.90%. While other left-wing parties and centrist candidate François Bayrou have said they will cast their second-round ballot in favour of Hollande, the traditionally unpredictable behavior of far-right voters has cast a measure of uncertainty on the outcome of the May 6 runoff.
Sarkozy is also hoping that a large number of centrist voters, once in the ballot booth, will ponder his oft-repeated warning that a Socialist victory would send France spiralling the way of Greece “in less than two days”.
The two weeks following the first round have been marked by heated exchanges and much mudslinging between the two camps, with Sarkozy unabashedly campaigning to woo Marine Le Pen’s voters on the far right. Openly betting on a post-election implosion of the UMP, the National Front leader has refused to endorse either of the candidates and said she would cast a blank ballot. Nicolas Sarkozy is set to vote on Sunday morning in the posh 16th arrondissement of Paris, along with his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Hollande, who is hoping to clinch a first presidential victory for the Socialists in more than two decades, has sought to comfort his lead in the polls by already striking a presidential posture and repeatedly using his campaign catchword of “rassemblement” (unity) to distance himself from Sarkozy’s aggressive stance on immigrants and attempts to oppose “real workers” against left-leaning trade unions. Claims about Hollande’s supposed “spinelessness” were put to rest after his strong performance in a May 2 televised debate, in which neither candidate could land a knock-out blow. The Socialist challenger will cast his vote in Tulle, a rural town in the central department of Correze, which he represents in the French parliament.
The latest austerity victim?
Although this presidential election is widely perceived as a domestic referendum on Sarkozy’ style of government, European leaders are likely to view its outcome in the wider context of the continent’s unending debt crisis. Most European countries that have held an election since the 2008 financial crisis have thrown out their leaders – including Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Britain. Greece, which also goes to the polls on Sunday, is expected to follow suit.
The first partial results in France, due to be released at 8pm Paris time, will be keenly awaited in capitals across Europe, where the French presidential campaign has rekindled a debate about the relative merits of austerity and growth.
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has openly sided with her French counterpart Sarkozy, several European leaders have made no secret of their hope that an Hollande victory will spell the end of the “Merkozy” recipe for austerity.