Sarkozy camp insists race not over as France vote looms
AFP, Thursday 19 Apr 2012
While recent polls show French President Nicolas Sarkozy is lagging behind in the presidential race, his camp insists on the importance of addressing the undecided voters

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's camp insisted Thursday the country's election race was far from over as top candidates sought to lure a large number of undecided voters.

Polls show French voters are set to turn their backs on Sarkozy after a single five-year term and choose Socialist Francois Hollande in Sunday's first round of the presidential vote and a run-off two weeks later.

But they also show a large portion of voters remain undecided—nearly one in four according to an OpinionWay-Fiducial poll released Wednesday—and Sarkozy's spokeswoman said the election was still up in the air.

"The pollsters themselves say they have never seen such an uncertain campaign with so little time to go," Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told the Direct Matin newspaper.

"The proportion of voters who say they could change their minds is extremely high," she said.

The right-wing president's aides have said he needs a victory in the first round to gain momentum and reverse his poll deficit before the May 6 run-off.

But, with three days to go before the vote, most polls show Hollande, a 57-year-old moderate Socialist with no government experience, ahead in the first round and the clear favourite in the second.

Pollsters say 57-year-old Sarkozy has failed to overcome disappointment over his term since 2007, fuelled by his aggressive style and France's increasing joblessness despite his vows to create wealth and jobs.

The OpinionWay-Fiducial poll showed 24 percent of voters remain undecided and, after a campaign many have described as lacklustre, up to 26 percent of those registered planned not to vote all.

It also showed more than a quarter of voters backing three lower-ranking candidates—far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, centrist Francois Bayrou and the Greens' Eva Joly—could change their minds before Sunday.

Hollande reached out Thursday to supporters of Communist-backed Melenchon, a former Socialist, noting the "common points" in their platforms.

"You can look at what separates us and you can look at what brings us together," he told BFMTV. "I was in the same party as Jean-Luc Melenchon, so there are many things that unite us."

Hollande is likely to be worried about the potential for a low turnout, which favours candidates with a hard-core of supporters like Melenchon and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front.

The record for the highest first-round abstention rate was in 2002, when 28.4 percent of voters stayed home and Le Pen's father Jean-Marie stunned observers by getting to the second round before losing to Jacques Chirac.

Polls this week mostly showed Hollande slightly ahead in the first round with between 26 and 29 percent of the vote, followed by Sarkozy with 24 to 28 percent.

Hollande is the clear favourite in the second round, expected to defeat Sarkozy, with between 53 and 58 percent of the vote.

The polls showed Le Pen with between 14 and 17 percent, Melenchon with 12 to 15 percent and Bayrou with 10 to 12 percent.

With France reeling from the eurozone debt crisis and unemployment recently hitting a 12-year high, the economy and public finances have topped the list of voters' concerns during the campaign.

Hollande has vowed to balance France's budget by 2017 while boosting taxes on the rich, increasing spending and creating thousands of state jobs.

He has scored populist points by declaring the world of finance his "enemy", vowing a 75-percent tax bracket for incomes over a million euros and promising to re-negotiate the EU's fiscal austerity pact to focus on growth.

Sarkozy hit back with predictions that a Socialist victory will spark a "massive crisis of confidence" among investors and a speculative run on the euro.