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France

French vote in presidential election after last-minute Sarkozy recovery

media Campaign leaflets for Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and François Hollande (R) Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

French voters go to the polls in what is set to be a historic presidential election campaign. Either François Hollande will become the second directly elected Socialist president in the country’s history or Nicolas Sarkozy will have turned early poll predictions of resounding defeat into a shock victory.

The day started with grey skies and rain, usually a factor that plays against the left. But it could also work against Sarkozy in this year’s deciding round, since he has to mobilise not only his own supporters but also those who voted for other candidates or abstained in the first round.

François Bayrou, the candidate for the liberal Modem party who picked up 9.13 per cent of votes in the first round, was the first high-profile candidate to vote, casting his ballot in his home town of Pau.

Bayrou, a practising Catholic who always votes early in the Sunday polls, infuriated the Sarkozy camp by announcing that he would vote for Hollande. In 2007 he did not declare that he would vote for Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal.

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who won 11.10 per cent in the first round, voted shortly after Bayrou in Paris’s 10th arrondissement. He has called on his supporters to deliver a massive “anti-Sarkozy” vote, while verbally mawling journalists who dared to suggest that this was a call to vote for Hollande.

Hollande himself voted mid-morning in his home base of Tulle in the Corrèze.

The Sarkozy campaign, which has made a determined bid for votes that went to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round, has sent an avalanche of emails to many French citizens. It became all the more intense in the run-up to the weekend when campaigning had to stop by law.

The ban did not stop a “viral’ SMS campaign by anonymous supporters of the incumbent starting Saturday evening, the website of the 20minutes free paper reports.

As pre-poll tension grew, several media organisations complained of the behaviour of some of the crowd at Sarkozy’s rallies. A reporter from the Médiapart website, which had carried a story about alleged Libyan financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign, complained of being manhandled at his May Day meeting in Paris, while journalists from BFM TV complained of similar behaviour in Toulon.

Sarkozy on Friday declared “I condemn anyone who attacks a journalist verbally or physically” but went on to declare that he understood the “people who are exasperated by a form of intolerance and bias”.

At his final rally on 4 May in Sables d’Olonne, Sarkozy interrupted his speech to complain that a reporter was “doing a live while turning his back to me” to enthusiastic applause for the crowd.

“Politeness is just a question of upbringing,” the incumbent added. “And if there is a lack we’ll find a remedy.”

Paris prosecutors are to open an investigation into breaches of election law by the media on Monday, targeting Belgium’s RTBF broadcaster and Le Soir newspaper, Swiss daily La Tribune de Genève and the French news wire service AFP, who are all accused of publishing provisional results of the first round before the 8pm deadline when voting ends..
 

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