France holds its presidential runoff election Sunday, with Socialist challenger Francois Hollande expected to defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
The latest opinion polls indicate President Sarkozy has narrowed the gap behind his Socialist rival, but Hollande is still expected to emerge victorious.
In office five years, President Sarkozy has faced criticism for his handling of the economy, as well as his brash style.
Council on Foreign Relations analyst Charles Kupchan says the president has lost the popularity he once enjoyed.
"Sarkozy promised what he called 'a rupture' - a break with the past, a liberalization of the French marketplace," he said. "And he has made some incremental steps to tax reform and to try to liberalize the labor market, and he has raised the retirement age - but French growth is really stuck in neutral. And the second thing is that Sarkozy seems to have lost his political touch. Many, many French voters see him as insufficiently 'presidential' - he is down in the trenches. They see him as hyperactive and unable to stick to a steady course."
Hollande is a veteran politician who headed the Socialist Party for several years, but he has never held a top government post. Friday marked his and Sarkozy's final day of campaigning.
"Don't imagine that your problems will dissipate, evaporate suddenly with the outgoing candidate. No, we will have to work together," said Hollande. "I can't disappoint you, that's why I have promised nothing in this campaign that I am not able to live up to. You will not be disappointed, you will not be forgotten. You will be defended, you will be respected because what constitutes our strength, yours and mine, is that you will respect your next president and the next head of state will respect each and everyone one of you for whatever you are, citizens of the Republic. Together on the sixth of May, long live the Republic, long live France."
|Nicolas Sarkozy ||François Hollande|
The Socialist candidate's presidential bid received a boost Thursday, when former candidate, centrist Francois Bayrou, said he would vote for him. Bayrou won 9 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections last month.
President Sarkozy downplayed Bayrou's announcement at a campaign rally Friday.
"Each one of us, each one of us has the decision in our hands," he said. "Those who don't vote will let others decide for them. Those who vote, will decide with their spirit and conscience, but they should not let others decide for them."
Meanwhile, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who finished third in the first round of balloting last month, said she will not support either candidate in the runoff.
In a televised debate Wednesday, Hollande and Sarkozy accused each other of lying during exchanges on economic policies. In campaigning, Hollande has blamed the president for France's unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent and called for sweeping changes to improve the nation's public finances.