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Sarkozy, Royal headed for runoff

Nicolas Sarkozy (Sarkozy campaign)

Nicolas Sarkozy (Sarkozy campaign)

PARIS (JTA) – Nicolas Sarkozy, the tough-talking conservative party candidate who appeared to be favored by French Jews despite their tradition of liberalism, won the first round of voting for the French presidency.Sarkozy, the UMP Party candidate who led nearly every opinion poll leading up to the balloting, garnered 31.1 percent of the vote. Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate,
received 25.8 percent.Those two candidates will meet in a May 6 runoff to see who succeeds Jacques Chirac, the president since 1995. The winner in the first round of voting needed 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.Sarkozy and Royal were the top vote-getters in a field of 10 that included centrist candidate Francois
Bayrou, who had 18.6 percent; and extreme right candidate Jean-Marie Le
Pen, at 10.5 percent.A near record of some 84 percent of 44.5 million eligible voters turned out despite the beautiful spring day.French Jews, despite a tradition of activism in the Socialist Party, were seen as backing Sarkozy. The former interior minister, known as an
American-style law-and-order politician, earned points in the Jewish community for his hard line against
Muslim unrest in France, including anti-Semitic attacks.”I would like to say to all
the French people who are afraid of the future that I will protect them
against violence and delinquency,” Sarkozy told supporters in Paris
after the early results were announced.Sarkozy has been a frequent visitor to Israel and has been nurturing contacts there, as well as in the Arab world, for years. Royal drew
fire from the Jewish community for meeting with Hezbollah lawmakers in Beirut
during a Mideast tour in December.The Middle East has been among the hot topics in French politics in recent months. A delegation of French senators visited the region in February on a four-day fact-finding mission.An opinion poll conducted by IPSOS after the results were announced showed Sarkozy leading Royal, 54 percent to 46 percent, in the runoff, the French Press Agency reported.Nonna Mayer, professor at the Science-Po University and an expert on French politics and the extreme right, said the real surprise was the high voter turnout. “Never had an election in France drawn the interest of so many people,” she said, citing the clear differences in the candidates. “Nicolas Sarkozy, preaching for a ‘calm breaking down’ ” – offering a new vision after 12 years of presidency by Jacques Chirac – “and Segolene Royal breaking off with the ‘elephants,’ ” or the old generation of her own party.Mayer said bitterness and anger rose in the suburbs after the 2005 riots, “when Nicolas Sarkozy referred to those burning cars as ‘hooligans.’ Thousands of people, sons and grandchildren of immigrants, registered to vote at that time.”This extraordinary participation rate is excellent for French democracy. Much better, obviously, than burning cars to express one’s frustration,” she said, referring to the riots, in which the protesters, among them many North African and Arab youths, killed at least one person and burned some 4,000 cars.But not only those living in the suburbs decided to vote – many for the first time.”Also many living in rural France, who felt frightened by what has happened, frightened by the surge of violence, were mobilized,” Mayer said, adding that they were drawn to Sarkozy’s stress on security.Another explanation for the high turnout was the widespread fear of having the extreme right-wing candidate, Le Pen, reach the election runoff as he did in 2002. Le Pen received fewer votes than the pollsters had expected.”The experts were apparently so afraid to repeat their mistake of 2002″ – when polls placed Le Pen as third or fourth – “that they estimated him getting more than they should have.”But Mayer said not to “bury Le Pen before his time.””Since so many more voters turned out, though his percentages were down, in numbers Jean-Marie Le Pen kept as many supporters as he had before,” she said. Experts in French politics are saying the French electorate has taken a turn right. They note that Royal is less of a traditional Socialist, presenting a pragmatic political program that could appeal to center and right voters, and that Bayrou probably managed to attract right-wing supporters.Sarkozy, meanwhile, suggested a month ago that if he forms a government, he would create a post of immigration and national identity minister – a controversial idea even within his own party. As to a prognosis for the runoff, a political expert on French television said, “Two weeks are a long time, an eternity almost, in French politics.”

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