sponsored by


French mull testy presidential debate they saw

Send a link to a friend

[May 03, 2012]  PARIS (AP) -- French voters who watched the only televised debate before this weekend's presidential election appeared to emerge with two impressions: Nicolas Sarkozy, who trails in the polls, did not pull off the clear victory he needed, and Francois Hollande was surprisingly resilient in the bitter back-and-forths.

Pollsters, meanwhile, were compiling figures about how the debate could influence Sunday's voting. For months, their studies across the board have suggested that Hollande, the Socialist challenger, is likely to quash conservative President Sarkozy's hopes for re-election.

The ballot outcome will set a course for the next five years of this nuclear-armed country with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and could reshape the debate in the 17-nation euro zone -- which Sarkozy's France has helped guide, along with Angela Merkel's Germany -- on how best to restore troubled state finances and sluggish growth across the continent.

The top two French networks that co-hosted Wednesday night's debate estimated at least 19.5 million people, or about a third of France's population, tuned in.

Even the candidates admitted it was spirited.

"I thought going in it would be to be bitter, and it was," Hollande told France-2 television Thursday. Sarkozy, on RTL radio, said he'd enjoyed the "strong" debate in which "we both didn't give too many concessions."

The verdict in French daily newspapers was mixed: Le Parisien headlined about a "harsh" debate, and conservative Le Figaro's front page read; "High Tension." Left-leaning Liberation wrote: "Hollande presided over the debate."

Hollande, who is known as mild mannered, yielded no ground in what was often a verbal slugfest, in which the two traded accusations about flawed claims by the other: Sarkozy once called his rival Hollande a "little slanderer," and repeatedly said he'd lied.

Joint debate presenters TF1 and France-2 television reported a peak audience of 19.5 million viewers -- though that does not include the figures on at least three cable-news channels that also aired the debate.

Mediametrie, which tracks viewer audience, said it was still a smaller audience than when Sarkozy debated Segolene Royal, France's first woman to qualify for the presidential election finale, during the 2007 race.

[to top of second column]

On the streets of Paris, the nearly three-hour clash was on many lips -- though it was tough to tell how many minds might have been swayed over the debate performances, and how many have already been made up.

Critics of Sarkozy have often faulted him for his brash style, alleged chumminess with the rich, and inability to reverse France's tough economic fortunes and nearly double-digit jobless rate. He has defended his record as better than others amid state-debt crises and economic woes across Europe.

Mild-mannered Hollande, meanwhile, is often derided by critics as too indecisive and unwilling to make tough choices to cut a bloated state. State spending makes up more than 56 percent of economic output in France, one of the highest such rates in the 27-nation European Union, according to the most recent figures from EU statistics agency Eurostat, dating to 2010.

"Sarkozy won according to me," retiree Alfred Tiano told AP Television News. "He was clear, and he has shown that his opponent had ideas but these ideas were out of touch with reality."

Joanna Daniel, a German citizen who has lived in France for decades, said many believed that Sarkozy "was supposed to be stronger in debate, but I think that Hollande defended himself well, so on that point I think he won."

[Associated Press; By JAMEY KEATEN]

Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor