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4 May 2007

Could there be one delicious last twist?

Sarkozy looks set to win the presidential race in France but it could still be a Battle Royal...

By Colin Randall

So the ladies at my wife’s gym were wrong. To a woman, they were agreed that Nicolas Sarkozy had shown himself to be arrogant, pig-headed and flaky. Ségolène Royal had won the debate.

But no. Look at today’s final polls before campaigning officially ends and they show that if there has been any movement in public opinion since Wednesday night’s grand televised duel, it has been in Sarkozy’s favour.

The polls were right at the first round, to the extent of making my concerns about the possible level of undeclared support for Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the odious Front National, unnecessary. With a straightforward choice between two candidates, the second round should have been a piece of cake for the pollsters.

So if they can be trusted again, Royal has no chance of winning on Sunday and every chance of losing quite heavily. I very much hope that the outcome is quite different since I am not – for reasons explained at my own site Salut! – one of Sarkozy’s biggest fans. But it is looking increasingly grim for his foe.

The faint glimmer of hope that remains, for Royal and her supporters, is that François Bayrou’s unambiguous rejection of Sarko will be interpreted as implicit endorsement of her.

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Ségo said confidently that even Bayrou’s words to le Monde on Thursday – “as it stands now, I do not know what I will do, but I know what I will not do” – made his position clear enough. But it is still a long leap from that to any degree of certainty that wavering centrist voters would even then switch allegiance to her.

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Bayrou’s strongish showing in round one was, in part, a reflection of the disenchantment of a large section of the electorate with the alternating left-right dominance of French politics. There must be at least a reasonable prospect that many of those people will, in one way or the other, abstain on Sunday.

It is not just that there is little point in proclaiming your independence only to discard it so soon afterwards. There is also the inescapable fact that Bayrou’s party, the UDF, drew most of its support from traditional conservatives, not pale pink socialists. Do not forget that until the ill-fated EU referendum. Bayrou was in coalition with Sarkozy’s UMP.

It would be small consolation, but Royal can look back with some pride on the spirited fight she has made of the second round of the campaign. In the end, however, she was done for by a combination of the natural centre-right majority of modern France and the disappointments of her earlier performance.

Or could there even now, implausible as it seems, be one last, delicious twist to the 2007 battle for the Elysée?