Sarkozy sinking as voters declare Hollande winner of TV debate

Socialist challenger seen as serene and persuasive while President lost out in heated exchanges


President Nicolas Sarkozy was widely judged yesterday to have "lost" his bad-tempered television debate with his Socialist challenger, François Hollande, just before the final round of the presidential election.

Some political analysts said that the frontrunning Mr Hollande "won" the debate simply because he did not lose it. Others said that the Socialist challenger had been more serene and persuasive and had come out on top in his sometimes violent verbal exchanges with Mr Sarkozy.

In an opinion poll by IFOP for Paris Match, 42 per cent of voters said that Mr Hollande had been the "more convincing" performer, compared to 34 per cent for the President.

There was a further, serious setback last night for Mr Sarkozy, who trails Mr Hollande by five to eight points in polls before 45,000,000 French voters choose their next president on Sunday.

The centrist leader, François Bayrou, who scored 9 per cent in the 10-candidate, first round on 22 April, announced that he would vote for Mr Hollande on Sunday. He accused his former ministerial colleague, Mr Sarkozy, of "trampling the values of Gaullism and the French Republic" in his "headlong race" after far-right votes in recent days.

Mr Bayrou said that he was giving no advice to his followers but he could not abstain at such a "dangerous" moment for France and Europe. He would therefore vote for Mr Hollande as a "personal decision".

By campaigning on far-right themes such as immigration and the alleged threat to French identity from Islam, Mr Bayrou said, President Sarkozy had "started a process" which could lead to "conflict between Frenchmen and Frenchmen".

Thirty parliamentarians and local politicians from Mr Bayrou's party, Le Mouvement Democrate, have also announced that they are voting for Mr Hollande. They said that Sarkozy's enthusiastic pursuit of far- right themes and voters had "disfigured France".

Mr Sarkozy, who trailed Mr Hollande 28.6 per cent to 27.06 per cent in the first round, needs a large transfer of both centrist and far-right votes to win on Sunday. The Socialist candidate is assured of most of the total of 44 per cent who voted for left-wing and green candidates on 22 April. He is predicted by opinion polls to take one in three centrist votes and one in five of the 17.9 per cent who voted National Front.

The nearly three-hour television debate on Wednesday night attracted, at its peak, 17,800,000 viewers – one in three of French voters. Mr Sarkozy's camp had billed the encounter as the "moment of truth" when the President would prove that he was the "authentic" man of the people and expose the "inexperience" of Mr Hollande, who has never held a ministerial job.

The President attacked from the first minute but rapidly found himself on the defensive as Mr Hollande eloquently criticised his economic record and his alleged favour- itism towards cronies and the rich. President Sarkozy repeatedly accused the Socialist candidate of "lying". He also called Mr Hollande a "demagogue" and a "little slanderer" and "Pontius Pilate".

Mr Hollande calmly responded at one point: "There you go again. That word [liar] seems to be a leitmotiv which is meant to hurt me but in your mouth it seems like a habit."

The aggressive tone of the debate may have angered undecided voters who wanted to hear solutions to their problems rather than a quarrel in their own living room. Mr Hollande laid to rest suggestions that he was "soft" but he scarcely expanded on his own, often vague, economic proposals and was caught out by the President on a couple of occasions. "It was a draw but Mr Hollande started as favourite, so he remains the favourite," the respected political commentator, François Fressoz wrote in Le Monde. Even the virulently pro-Sarkozy Le Figaro did not claim a victory for its champion.

Mr Sarkozy's best moment came on one of his favourite themes – immigration. He managed to expose contradictory remarks by Mr Hollande on whether he would maintain detention centres for illegal migrants.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor


Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all