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No surprise in French presidential election

French Socialist Party presidential candidate Segolene Royal speaks to supporters in Melle, France 22 April 2007, after having secured the second place in the first round of the French presidential elections.

Royal will face UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy in a runoff vote on May 06. Fabien and Sandrine Bertrand, a 30-something married couple living in Paris, embodied the French political electorate Sunday after the first round of the French presidential election. Fabien said he had voted for Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal because „she represents my principles, and because my wife voted for Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Sarkozy, candidate of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), and Royal finished first and second Sunday and will face each other on May 6 to determine who will be president of France for the next five years. Early estimates credited Sarkozy with about 30.5% of the vote, well ahead of Royal’s 25.7%.

The results of Sunday’s vote ended months of speculation that France’s traditional left-right dichotomy might be at an end, particularly because of the surge in the polls by the head of the centrist Union for a Democratic France (UDF), Francois Bayrou. But Bayrou finished well behind Royal with about 18.5% of the vote. Right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen finished a well-beaten fourth, receiving about 11%. In 2002, Le Pen had caused a political earthquake by finishing ahead of Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin to make it to the second round, where he was trounced by Jacques Chirac.

Royal’s success represents „an end to the nightmare of 2002, „ one of the heads of her campaign, Jean-Louis Bianco, said Sunday. It might also have put an end to the dream of transforming the French Socialists into a modern European Social Democratic Party. During the campaign, two prominent Socialists, former prime minister Michel Rocard and former health minister Bernard Koushner, called for an alliance between Royal and Bayrou to modernize the party and to block Sarkozy’s path to the Elysee Palace.

Royal’s success, polling about 9% more than Jospin in 2002, will probably convince her and her advisors that she does not need to move further to the center to defeat the former interior minister. After early results were announced, she received the support of Green Party candidate Dominique Voynet, Communist Party candidate Marie-George Buffet and, most surprising, Trotskyist Arlette Laguiller. Royal’s success was certainly due in large part to her ability to convince left-wing voters to cast a „useful vote,” rather than voting for Voynet, Buffet, Laguiller and the other candidates from the alternative left.

„I was a victim of the useful vote,” Voynet told TF 1 television, adding that „the truncheon in favor of the useful vote was very efficient. „ However, the key to the presidency may still lie with Bayrou in the center. It was unclear Sunday if he would call on his supporters to vote for Royal or Sarkozy without receiving something in return. The head of the UDF parliamentary group, Herve Morin, said late Sunday that Bayrou will listen to what Sarkozy and Royal have to say before endorsing one or them. „We will see how much influence 6 million voters (Bayrou’s estimated voter support) can have on French political life, „ Morin said. „Finally there is a center in France, a large center, „ Bayrou said Sunday, appearing jubilant despite his elimination. And as he addressed his cheering supporters, he looked very much like a future kingmaker. (