Nicolas Sarkozy holds an advantage over his Socialist rival,
Segolene Royal, after the two advanced to the second round
of France's presidential election, narrowing the vote
to a choice between the tough-talking former interior
minister or the first woman with a chance of becoming
the country's leader.
Royal and Sarkozy
planned rallies Monday night with an eye on voters who
deserted the left and right in favor of farmer's son and
lawmaker Francois Bayrou, who placed third on Sunday
in one of the big surprises of the campaign.
The winner's task
will be tough: France is a troubled nation, still
haunted by the riots by young blacks and Arabs in poor
neighborhoods in 2005.
Decades of high
unemployment, increasing competition from economies like
China's, and a sense that France is losing influence in the
world made the campaign a passionate one.
relax labor laws and cut taxes to invigorate the sluggish
economy, while Royal would increase government spending and
preserve the country's generous worker protections.
champions change but says it must not be brutal.
''I extend my
hand to all those women and men who think, as I do, that it
is not only possible but urgent to abandon a system that no
longer works,'' she said.
With 18.5% of the
vote, Bayrou won the support of voters who could hold
the key to victory for Sarkozy or Royal when the French
elect a new president in two weeks.
Union for French Democracy has traditionally voted with
the right in parliament and has often had ministers in
conservative governments. But Bayrou the candidate
drew leftists as well as conservatives to his camp;
both Sarkozy and Royal need those votes back.
''The door is
naturally open,'' Sarkozy's top lieutenant, Brice
Hortefeux, said Monday on France-Inter radio, adding that he
felt Sarkozy best embodies the values of the center.
But he said that Sarkozy and his governing party, the
Union for a Popular Movement, would appeal directly to
voters, not to Bayrou's political apparatus.
With nearly all
votes counted, Sarkozy had 31.1%, followed by Royal with
25.8%, and Bayrou. Turnout was 84.6%--the highest in
more than 40 years and just shy of the record set in
Royal is the
first woman to get this close to the helm of this major
European economic, military, and diplomatic power. Sarkozy
would be likely to push his anxious nation toward
France will get its first president with no memory of World
War II to replace the 74-year-old Jacques Chirac, who is
stepping down after 12 years.
round of voting shut out 10 other hopefuls, from
Trotskyists to far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen
had hoped to repeat his shockingly strong showing of
2002 but instead finished a weak fourth with 10.5%.
Both Sarkozy, a
Hungarian immigrant's son, and Royal, a military
officer's daughter who beat Socialist heavyweights to win
her party's nomination, are in their 50s.
The runoff offers
''a clear choice between two very different paths,''
cheering supporters Sunday night that by choosing him and
Royal, voters ''clearly marked their wish to go to the very
end of the debate between two ideas of the nation, two
programs for society, two value systems, two concepts
Despite his lead,
the former interior minister faces a powerful
''Anything But Sarkozy'' push by those who call him too
arrogant and explosive to run a nuclear-armed nation.
He once called young delinquents ''scum,'' a remark
that outraged the residents of poor neighborhoods and
has dogged him politically.
Royal, a lawmaker
and feminist who says she makes political decisions
based on what she would do for her children, shot to
popularity by promising to run France differently. But
she has stumbled on foreign policy. In one gaffe,
during a trip to Beijing she praised the
Chinese for their swift justice system.
question whether she is ''presidential'' enough to run
Sarkozy should be
able to count on votes from the far right, whose
champion Le Pen suffered his second-worst showing in five
Royal's score was
the highest for a Socialist since Francois Mitterrand
in 1988. But closing the gap with Sarkozy could be a
struggle in round 2. Candidates to her left together
scored about 11%. They immediately swung behind her
after their elimination, but their votes alone will not be
enough to put Royal in power.
83.77%--just shy of the 84.8% first-round record, set
in 1965. That year, modern France held its first
direct presidential election, with World War II
general Charles de Gaulle and Socialist Francois
Mitterrand reaching the runoff that de Gaulle went on to
win. (Angela Charlton, AP)