Latest World News / Paris News – President Nicolas Sarkozy pulled ahead of his Socialist rival for the first time in France’s election race Tuesday, according to a poll conducted after the right-winger took a strident anti-EU turn.
The survey forecast that Sarkozy would lead in the first round but still lose out to Francois Hollande in the second, but it was a symbolic boost for the leader who had consistently trailed his rival for the past five months.
His spokeswoman claimed there was “panic” among the Socialists after the Ifop poll that said the president would would win 28.5 percent of the vote in the first round in April, against 27 percent for Hollande.
Hollande, who has never held a ministerial post and whose ex-partner Segolene Royal lost to Sarkozy in 2007, is still on course to win the second round in May with 54.5 percent against Sarkozy’s 45.5 percent, the poll said.
“It’s a turning point… but a nuanced turning point,” Frederic Dabi of Ifop told AFP.
Socialist former minister Jack Lang played down the survey’s importance, deeming it “abnormal” that an incumbent be as low in the polls as is Sarkozy.
“Let’s not get taken in or too excited by this or that poll,” he said.
The survey of 1,638 people was carried out by telephone, shortly after tens of thousands of Sarkozy supporters turned up in a Paris suburb on Sunday for his biggest campaign rally so far.
Sarkozy’s UMP party had billed that meeting as a key part of their bid to turn the tables on Hollande.
The president, who had initially campaigned as the self-styled saviour of Europe’s single currency, thrilled the cheering crowd with a surprise new eurosceptic stance.
In a tub-thumping speech, he threatened to pull France out of Europe’s 26-nation passport-free travel zone unless the European Union does more to keep out illegal immigrants.
And he demanded the EU adopt measures to fight cheap imports, warning that France might otherwise pass a unilateral “Buy French” law.
The left was quick to attack what they saw as a populist stunt, with Hollande’s campaign manager accusing Sarkozy of behaving like a eurosceptic British prime minister.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front, meanwhile secured the backing of enough local government officials to run in the two-round presidential election, her party said Tuesday.
All French presidential candidates must have the signed endorsement of 500 elected local mayors and officials — of which there are around 42,000 in France — by a March 16 deadline.
Although polls consistently put Le Pen in third place in the presidential race, there was speculation that few mayors or regional councillors wanted to take the political risk of associating themselves with her campaign.
Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen repeatedly claimed that he would not be able to garner the 500 signatures necessary to stand for the presidency, but was able to do so at every presidential election since 1988.
Philippe Poutou, a car worker who is running for president as the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) candidate, has also gathered the necessary 500 signatures, his party said Tuesday.
Tuesday’s Ifop poll said Poutou would take 0.5 percent of the vote in the first round. (AFP)