French President Nicolas Sarkozy faced off against his Socialist rival, François Hollande, in the only primetime debate of the 2012 presidential race on Wednesday night, just days ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Click here for FRANCE 24’s “live blog” on the 2012 French presidential debate.
In what was widely dubbed “The Final Confrontation,” incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy challenged his Socialist rival François Hollande’s portrayal of his five-year presidential term in the only televised debate of the 2012 campaign.
With just four days to go before Sunday’s final round of the presidential poll, the stakes were high Wednesday night as Hollande kicked off the debate with a ferocious attack on what he called Sarkozy’s track record of dividing the French people, adding that if he were elected, the Socialist politician would be a “president for justice”.
In a quick rebuttal - the sort that characterised the contentious tone of the debate - Sarkozy shot back : “Bringing people together – what a beautiful idea. But it’s not just words, it’s facts that matter,” before noting that during his tenure as president, Sarkozy managed to implement controversial policies such as pension reforms without massive street protests.
THE FRANCE 24 DEBATE: RIVALS FACE OFF
The much-anticipated debate kicked off at 9pm local time at a TV studio north of Paris with the two candidates facing each other across a table mounted with two digital clocks to monitor the speaking time of each candidate.
Moderated by leading French TV presenters, David Pujadas of France 2 and Laurence Ferrari of TF1, Wednesday’s debate is being broadcast live by several French TV stations.
Hollande’s strategy centered on criticising the French president’s economic policies during a period that saw France lose its AAA credit rating and the number of jobless people reach four million.
But Sarkozy took a critical position from the start, maintaining he was being unfairly blamed for France's economic problems after years of crisis, and insisted he's not "the only guilty one.''
Sarkozy aims to chip at Hollande’s poll lead
Known to be a formidable debater, Sarkozy had pushed for more debates against Hollande, a challenge the Socialist candidate turned down, making Wednesday’s debate not just the final, but also the high point of a campaign that many critics have described as being lacklustre.
Sarkozy came to the debate Wednesday night as the underdog, with a mission to chip away at the seven-point lead Hollande holds in opinion polls.
The French president has been waging an aggressive bid to destabilize his Socialist rival who won the April 22 first round with 28.6% of the vote while the incumbent came second with 27.8%. But opinion polls have consistently shown Hollande with a comfortable lead in the May 6 second round.
Maintaining temperatures of the studio and the discourse
But contrary to Hollande’s demurrals, the preparations for Wednesday’s debate had the sort of dramatic build-up normally reserved for a heavyweight boxing championship.
The format of the debate was hammered out after extensive negotiations with media advisors for both candidates.
In the TV gallery controlling 20 cameras, each candidate has his own director to guarantee fair coverage. The coverage rules for the evening include no profile shots of the candidates and no reaction shots of one candidate while the other is speaking.
The room temperature has been set between 19 to 20C with each camp granted access to control the temperature.
But it can be argued that the candidates have less control of the temperature of the discourse in a debate that has been likened to a duel – and a final one at that.
Date created : 2012-05-02