Pollsters predict narrow win for Hollande

Pollsters will emerge with egg on their face as never before if Francois Hollande fails to win Sunday's presidential election. For almost a year, opinion polls have been placing Socialist Mr. Hollande ahead of Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's final run-off and though the gap separating the two candidates has narrowed, the Socialist challenger is still expected to wrest the presidential crown from the incumbent, albeit with a very thin majority.

The last poll published on Friday showed Mr. Hollande winning 52.5 per cent of the vote against Mr. Sarkozy's 47.5 per cent.

Following their televised debate last Wednesday, in which Mr. Hollande refused to be cowed down by the more aggressive Mr. Sarkozy, thus winning wide approval, both men have been back on the stump addressing political meetings, rallying their troops. Mr. Sarkozy is hoping that his attempts at seducing extreme-Right voters will bear fruit and allow him to pip his rival at the post. “This election will be on a razor's edge,” he told cheering fans.

But a hint of realism, of realisation that defeat now looms large might just be creeping in, because a more than usually controlled Mr. Sarkozy dropped his guard last Friday, letting loose a barrage of invective, heaping opprobrium not just on his opponent and on the media (to be expected) but the centrist leader Francois Bayrou, who declared he would vote for Mr. Hollande. This is the first time that the centrist, normally allied to the Right and once tipped to be Mr. Sarkozy's next Prime Minister, has publicly declared his preference for the Socialist. He described Mr. Sarkozy's divisive politics as being “dangerous” for the nation.

A very narrow victory could cause problems in both camps. Mr. Hollande will not be able to govern with sufficient authority if he wins by just one point or less. “In order to be truly credible, he has to win with as wide a margin as possible. Heavyweights within his own party and other supporters like Jean-Luc Melenchon of the extreme-Left will not be able to corner him if he has a solid majority and a clear mandate,” Brice Tinturier of the polling agency TNS Sofres told The Hindu. “On the other hand, if Mr. Sarkozy loses by just one point it will cloud the recomposition of the Right, because he can claim victory in defeat, because he will have reduced what has been a very wide gap to almost nothing.”

Most pollsters and political commentators, however, say that in all probability, Mr. Hollande will win because “for Sarkozy, the arithmetic simply does not add up”.

France is in deep crisis with budget deficits spiralling out of control, an unsustainable welfare system that includes a generous pension and healthcare scheme, coupled with high unemployment and low growth. Mr. Hollande has pledged to pull France out of near-recession and back into growth. But will he have the courage to undertake necessary reforms to the pension and health schemes that are bankrupting the state?

Economic woes

Many of his Left-wing supporters are dreaming of a return to old times when the state cocooned the working classes. But globalisation and delocalisation have smashed many a working class dream and it is unclear how Mr. Hollande, who has promised subsidies for water, fuel and electricity and 60,000 new jobs in education, plans to finance his dream factory.

What is clear, however, is that the French public has developed such a visceral dislike for Mr. Sarkozy and all he represents — arrogance, unbridled narcissism, a flamboyant lifestyle and rude behaviour — that they are unwilling to admit he could have been a courageous and responsible leader, especially during the recent financial crisis. In his desperation to win, Mr. Sarkozy has inched ever closer to the extreme-Right, often adopting its bully-boy tactics and language of stigmatisation. “Mr Sarkozy won the last vote by promising to govern differently, through a ‘rupture' with the past. From whom can he promise a break now? With his own inglorious past? He has been hoisted on his own petard,” commentator Sylvie Braibant told The Hindu.

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