OVERVIEW

2007 French Presidential Elections

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Friday, April 13, 2007; 3:52 PM

UPDATE: PARIS, May 6 -- Nicolas Sarkozy, the combative son of a Hungarian immigrant, was elected president of France, promising a new generation of leadership to transform the country, restore its self-respect and reinvigorate ties with the United States and Europe. Continue reading...

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French voters on April 22, 2007, sent Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling Union for Popular Movement Party and Socialist Ségolène Royal to the second round of voting in the presidential election. Because none of the 12 candidates received more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round, the top two contenders competed for the Elysee Palace in a runoff.

On May 6, Sarkozy defeated Royal by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote, according to final results. Voter turnout was a near-record 84 percent of 44.5 million eligible voters. The massive turnout reflected voter's fears of economic decline at home and diminishing influence abroad, and also underscored enthusiasm for the personality-driven, American-style campaigns.

CANDIDATES

Nicolas Sarkozy, 52, candidate of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, has capitalized on deep national frustration with the political process, promising to revitalize the country through modernization and reform. Sarkozy has said that taxes are too high and that France must change its work ethic to generate new jobs and compete in the global economy. He says that if elected, he would nurture the long friendship between France and the United States, but would tell the United States when he thinks it is wrong.

Sarkozy, who stepped down as interior minister last March, won a tepid endorsement from President Jacques Chirac only after a delayed announcement that Chirac himself wouldn't seek his party's nomination. Sarkozy, who has cultivated an image as a maverick within Chirac's government, has based much of his campaign on promises to break clean with the policies of the unpopular, two-term Chirac.

French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech during a meeting in Nice
Nicolas Sarkozy(Lionel Cironneau)
Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal, 53, has proposed increasing retirement benefits for the lowest wage earners, raising the minimum wage and establishing affordable housing guarantees. The protégé of French presidential icon Francois Mitterrand, Royal has capitalized on her image as a fresh-faced cyber-candidate, running a campaign to shake up the male-dominated world of French politics. But Royal has lost the intense support she enjoyed early in the campaign, dropping from first to third place in opinion polls as her campaign has suffered from political blunders and internal party disputes.

French Socialist Party presidential candidate Segolene Royal shakes hands with supporters as she campaigns in Aix en Provence
Segolene Royal(Jean-paul Pelissier)
Royal has written four books, is a member of the National Assembly, and has spent most of her life in politics, including cabinet positions for environment, education and family issues. She says France should be a solid partner with the United States, but should not be intimidated by it.

François Bayrou, 55, of the Union for French Democracy, started the race polling in the single digits. But during the final weeks of the campaign, Bayrou has scaled the public opinion surveys, transforming what was a two-person presidential campaign into an unpredictable three-way sprint with the two front-runners, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal. Bayrou, who grew up on a farm, is casting himself as the man in the middle, who can lift France out of a lingering national malaise brought on by a floundering economy and the growing fear of globalization. He says he wants to improve education, grant minorities greater opportunities, boost small businesses and strengthen France's voice in the European Union. He has also said he would include people from all major parties in his cabinet, a model that has drawn criticism from his opponents.

France's UDF political party presidential candidate Francois Bayrou (L) talks to a shopkeeper as he visits the open market of les Camelias in Saint -Denis
Francois Bayrou(Vincent Kessler)
Bayrou has projected himself as a political outsider even though he has spent most of his adult life in politics, beginning as an adviser to an agriculture minister in 1981. He has been a member of his local city council, president of a region and a member of both the French National Assembly and the European Parliament. He has served as education minister to two prime ministers, and also run for the presidency.

France's far-right Front national party's (FN) president and presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen during a press conference, in Saint-Cloud
Jean-Marie Le Pen(Martin Bureau)
Jean-Marie Le Pen, 78, the anti-immigration candidate of the far-right National Front Party, surprised France by finishing second in the 2002 presidential contest. Most pollsters and analysts say they do not expect Le Pen to win a runoff position this year, but that he could have a major impact on the race's outcome by taking votes from Sarkozy. The extent of Le Pen's support remains unknown, because many of his followers will not admit their support to pollsters. Many of Le Pen's views from his 2002 campaign -- when he lost in a runoff with President Jacques Chirac -- came to the fore of political debates after civil unrest and violence swept France's suburban slums in the fall of 2005. However, many voters consider his views racist and anti-Semitic.

Other candidates include: Olivier Besancenot of the Revolutionary Communist League, anti-globalization activist Jose Bove, Marie-George Dresser Buffet of the Communist Party, Arlette Laguiller of the Workers' Struggle, Frederic Nihous of the CPNT, Gerard Schivardi of the Workers Party, Philippe de Villiers of Movement for France and Domenica Voynet of the Green Party.

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ISSUES?

More than a year after immigrant neighborhoods around Paris exploded in civil unrest, the suburbs have become a potent force in the presidential campaign. Immigrant citizens and their first-generation French children have registered to vote in unprecedented numbers, and have forced politicians to confront issues previously considered politically taboo: racial, ethnic and religious discrimination. Besides concerns about rising immigration, voters have expressed deep frustration with France's declining status abroad, its high unemployment and concerns about crime and globalization.

WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?

Results from the first round of voting, on April 22, showed Sarkozy winning 31 percent of the vote, and Royal receiving 26 percent, with nearly all of the ballots counted. Bayrou came in third with 18 percent of the vote, and Jean-Marie Le Pen ranked fourth with 11 percent, according to preliminary results. The remaining 17 percent was split among eight minor political groups.

The second round of voting, on May 6, gave the presidency to Sarkozy. He defeated Royal by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote, according to final results.

Compiled from staff reports by Heather Farrell


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