French voters go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president, with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy fighting an uphill battle against the Socialist Party challenger, Francois Hollande.
In many ways, political experts say Sunday’s run-off election is a classic right-wing/left-wing showdown in French politics.
But Dominique Moisi, senior adviser to the French Institute of International Affairs in Paris, says there is another element in this presidential campaign - a clash of personalities.
“If you want to caricature that a little bit, it’s between a man who is perceived as too much - Nicolas Sarkozy - and a man who may be perceived as not enough - Francois Hollande,” said Moisi.
It is a battle, he adds, between “a man whose energy is remarkable, incredible [Sarkozy], but whose nervousness or political opportunism makes people uneasy.
“So there is a personal rejection of Nicolas Sarkozy that makes this election something unique,” Moisi concluded.
After five years in office, Sarkozy is also seen by many French citizens as not delivering on his promises - especially in the area of economics.
Charles Kupchan, a European expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the French president is facing an uphill battle for re-election for two reasons.
“One is that the economy has not come back to life,” Kupchan said, despite Sarkozy’s promised “liberalization of the French market place.”
“He’s made some incremental steps to tax reform and to try to liberalize the labor market, and he’s raised the retirement age,” he said, “but French growth is really stuck in neutral.
Kupchan also says, “Sarkozy seems to have lost his political touch. Many, many French voters see him as insufficiently ‘presidential’- he’s down in the trenches. They see him as hyper-active and unable to stick to a steady course.”
Latest public opinion surveys indicate that barring a miracle, Sarkozy will lose the presidency on Sunday to the Socialist Party candidate, Francois Hollande.
Experts predict that Sarkozy will not even get solid support from the followers of the extreme right wing National Front Party led by Marine Le Pen.
Five years ago, Sarkozy won considerable support from the National Front, but experts say he has alienated many of its followers by not delivering on his promises, including one to curb immigration.
“If all the National Front voters were going to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy, they would make a difference,” said Moisi. “But we know from public opinion polls that only 60 percent, at most, of the National Front voters are going to pronounce themselves for Nicolas Sarkozy.”
The other 40 percent, he says, will either vote for Hollande or abstain.
Moisi says National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who came in third in the first round election last month, would not vote for either Hollande or Sarkozy.
“Her ideal is a defeat of Sarkozy and a reconstruction of the right with the National Front as an essential part,” Moisi says,
To make that happen, he says, Le Pen is looking forward to the French legislative elections in June.
“She’s waiting with greed, looking at the new importance of her political party within the right-wing of France.”
As for Sunday’s presidential balloting, Moisi and others say that ironically, the French are not necessarily going to vote for Francois Hollande because of his policies, but because he is not Nicolas Sarkozy.