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French Presidential Candidates Make Final Appeals Before Runoff - 2002-05-04

Voters in France will cast ballots Sunday in the second round of the country's presidential election - one of the most dramatic in recent history. French voters will choose between incumbent President Jacques Chirac and the surprise runner-up in the first round of voting Jean-Marie Le Pen, of the extreme-right National Front. No one really is sure how Socialists and leftists will vote Sunday.

The public-opinion polls say Jacques Chirac should win a second term comfortably. But the polls were wrong in the first round when they indicated that Mr. Le Pen would not finish higher than fourth.

Some people who vote for the extreme-right candidate will not admit it to poll-takers. So, predictions that Mr. Le Pen will get about 25-percent of the vote have not provided much reassurance to Mr. Chirac's supporters.

Neither has the reluctance of many on the left to pledge to vote for President Chirac.

At his final campaign rally in Marseille, Mr. Le Pen made fun of the leftists. He said leftists would be holding their noses in the ballot booth Sunday while voting for Mr. Chirac.

The left has made clear its feelings for Mr. Le Pen, in daily demonstrations by thousands of people throughout the country, denouncing him as a fascist and a racist.

President Chirac has indirectly appealed for leftist votes in his own denunciation of the far right, without mentioning Mr. Le Pen by name.

In his final campaign rally, the president said the far right degraded and soiled the image and the honor of France.

It is expected that a sizeable majority of those who vote Sunday will agree with the president and return him to office.