France election: Debate test for Sarkozy and Hollande
Published: 2nd May 2012 11:48:15
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is preparing to meet his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, in their only debate of the election campaign.
Correspondents agree it is Mr Sarkozy's last chance to regain the initiative in the race after losing to Mr Hollande in the first round last month.
Opinion polls suggest Mr Hollande has a lead of up to eight percentage points.
However, the president is seen as a formidable debater while the Socialist lacks experience of government office.
These debates rarely rescue a failing campaign but they have the potential to surprise, to deliver a defining moment”
Mr Sarkozy is expected to seek to portray his opponent as a dangerous left-winger with reckless spending plans that would wreck France's struggling economy.
It is believed Mr Hollande's strategy will be to take apart the conservative president's five years in office, which have seen France lose its AAA credit rating and the number of jobless people reach four million.
The two men will meet in a TV studio at 21:00 (19:00 GMT) for the debate, which will be broadcast live by several channels, and will reportedly have a maximum running time of two-and-a-half hours.
About a third of France's 63 million people are expected to watch.
An aide to Mr Sarkozy let slip to Reuters news agency that the president would be spending all of Wednesday at home preparing for the debate.
"It's not a contest of words, it's a moment of truth," Mr Sarkozy told reporters earlier.
Christopher Bickerton, an associate professor of international relations at France's Sciences Po university, told Reuters: "Sarkozy is very combative, very pugnacious.
"He can be quite hard with his interlocutors and Hollande has to avoid being seen to be browbeaten."
An aide to Mr Sarkozy told French media the president intended to "flush" the mild-mannered Socialist "out of the woods".
Some good news arrived for the Sarkozy campaign in the form of a new opinion poll suggesting he had cut his rival's lead by one point - but the Ifop poll still had him seven points behind.
French voters interviewed anonymously by the Associated Press news agency welcomed the prospect of the debate.
"Many people still don't know who to vote for," said one. "More than ever this debate could be decisive."
"It's always good to see them facing each other," said another.
"It could reveal a certain number of things. Francois Hollande hasn't said much so far, it will be interesting to see him pushed to the limits and say what he plans to do."
Mr Hollande, an experienced debater himself who prevailed in his party's gruelling primaries last year, is believed to be doing his own preparation for the debate, without a coach.
"It's not a boxing match or a wrestling match," he said.
On Wednesday morning, he joked in an interview that he should be able to "go on the offensive for French people but not to score points in a debate".
Speaking to French broadcasters BFMTV and RMC radio, he restated his controversial pledge to create 60,000 teaching posts in France, saying there would be a yearly target of 12,000 for his presidency.
Accusing Mr Sarkozy of courting far-right voters, he said he did not believe there were too many legal immigrants in France before adding: "There are too many illegal immigrants in France."
If he lost Sunday's election, Mr Hollande said, he would not retire from politics.
Mr Sarkozy has attacked him for refusing to hold three election debates instead of one but there has been just one debate per presidential election since 1974, apart from in 2002 when Jacques Chirac refused to debate with the far right's Jean-Marie Le Pen.
A key moment in Mr Sarkozy's 2007 debate with Segolene Royal - Mr Hollande's former partner and mother of his children - came when he told the Socialist candidate to "calm down". She repeatedly refused to do so, saying some anger was "perfectly healthy".
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. France election: Debate test for Sarkozy and Hollande [Online] (Updated 2nd May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1426004/France-election-Debate-test-for-Sarkozy-and-Hollande [Accessed 9th Mar 2014]
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