With the first round of presidential elections behind them, French voters now face a clear choice in the runoff on May 6th between Nicholas Sarkozy on the right and Ségolène Royal on the left. Final results from last Sunday?s ballot show the conservative candidate Sarkozy with a comfortable 31 % of the vote. Socialist candidate Royal was in second place with just under 26 %. The first round drew a near-record voter turnout of almost 85 %.

Philippe Gelie, U.S. bureau chief for Le Figaro, says Nicholas Sarkozy of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party advocates what he calls a ?new path? for France ? more flexibility in the economy and more incentive for private enterprise. On the other hand, Ségolène Royal said after the first round of the election that she wanted to reform France ?without brutalizing it.? Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA New Now?s International Press Club, Mr. Gelie says most analysts predict that in the runoff election, the economy will be the major determinant in how people vote, but the first part of the campaign raised two ?magnet issues? ? immigration on the right and globalization on the left. Philippe Gelie points out that in the second round both presidential candidates will have to campaign at the center and one of the ?keys? will be support from the people who voted for François Bayrou, a centrist who came in third and won 18.8 % of the ballots. However, this week Bayrou refused to endorse either Sarkozy or Royal and criticized both.

Algerian journalist Caci Djerbib points out that, in a country with a total population of 60 million, France has one million residents of Algerian descent whose interests are also at stake in the election. Mr. Djerbib says the Algerians' greatest concern is integration ? making sure that those who are permanent residents have the same rights as French citizens.

Christian Wernicke, U.S. bureau chief for the Suddeutsche Zeitung, says that Germans are also watching French presidential politics with interest. He says they are concerned because neither of the two candidates is a ?really convinced European? although France is a founding member of the European Union. Mr. Wernicke says that immigration and the future of the welfare state have been key topics in the campaign with Sarkozy ?playing hardball? with immigration and Royal posing herself as the ?Jeanne d?Arc defending social welfare.? Regarding relations with Washington, Christian Wernicke notes that Sarkozy has portrayed himself as a ?more trans-Atlantic guy? whereas Royal has hardly any international experience. According to Mr. Wernicke, in terms of Realpolitik, both candidates will need to operate as ?part of a European network.?

Philippe Jelie of Le Figaro says that, because it is impossible to predict how François Bayrou?s supporters will vote in the presidential runoff on May 6th, a lot can change in the French electorate?s mood in the interim.

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