More political figures fall in behind Hollande


THE FRENCH Socialist Party moved to shore up the left-wing vote last night with an attack on the EU fiscal treaty and a promise to make it easier for people to retire at 60.

With polls showing party candidate François Hollande holding his lead over Nicolas Sarkozy with five days until the first round of voting in the presidential election, further political figures fell in behind him yesterday.

Despite his strong lead, Mr Hollande’s party is concerned that possible high abstention rates and the rise in support for the left radical Jean-Luc Mélenchon could cut into his first-round vote.

At a rally in Lille last night, party leader Martine Aubry denounced the “Sarkozy-Merkel” treaty, which Hollande has said he will seek to renegotiate if elected.

“The message from Lille, five days before the first round, it that if you want change, you must vote for François Hollande from the first round,” she said.

Ms Aubry, a potential prime minister in a Hollande government and a figure identified with the party’s left wing, stressed the candidate’s radical credentials.

If elected, she said, his first act would be to undo parts of Mr Sarkozy’s pension reform by making it easier for people in physically punishing jobs to retire at 60. He would also legislate for gay marriage. “It’s always in Lille that the socialist candidate holds his last major rally before the first round, here in the land of socialism and workers’ struggle, but also a land at the heart of Europe,” Ms Aubry said.

Mr Hollande received a boost yesterday when influential supporters began to fall in behind him. Two Sarkozy-era government ministers – Martin Hirsch and Fadela Amara – said they would vote for the socialist, while a close friend of the conservative former president Jacques Chirac said he would do the same.

Mr Hollande was joined at the Lille rally last night by Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo, the only foreign leader who has openly backed him.

Mr Sarkozy has mocked Mr Hollande’s international isolation, and was criticised recently for breaking protocol and allowing television cameras to film the first few moments of a videophone conference with US president Barack Obama. “We will win, you and me,” Mr Sarkozy told Mr Obama.

In a further boost for the frontrunner, 42 economists wrote an open letter endorsing Mr Hollande’s recovery plan and the leader of the employers’ association Medef, Laurence Parisot, who has previously given an implicit endorsement to the incumbent, said she agreed with some of Mr Hollande’s ideas and would like to meet.

Stressing his role in steering France through the euro zone debt crisis, Mr Sarkozy kept up his calls for the European Central Bank to be given a bigger role in driving growth, saying this could be done without modifying the European treaties or throwing the bank’s independence into question. “It is wrong to say that just because the ECB is independent, we do not have the right to talk,” he said.

An Ipsos opinion poll put Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy neck and neck on 27 per cent each in the first round, ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen with 15.5 per cent, the left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon with 14.5 per cent and centrist François Bayrou with 10 per cent.

A separate Ifop poll showed Mr Sarkozy losing ground and gave Mr Hollande a one-point first round lead. Both surveys showed Mr Hollande winning a run-off.

In a glimmer of hope for the incumbent, political forecaster ElectionScope, which says it correctly predicted the winners of the two last sets of presidential elections in France and the United States, predicted a wafer-thin win for Mr Sarkozy.


Love and marriage

Nicolas Sarkozy was in a philosophical mood when he appeared on France Inter radio’s flagship morning show yesterday. Asked about the role emotion played in elections, the president replied: “Do you know anyone who doesn’t need love?”

A long reflection ensued, before he remarked: “I think a president has the right to joy, to unhappiness – he is someone who suffers, who loves, who lives.”

Asked about gay marriage and adoption, Sarkozy launched into another extended meditation.

“What is the difference between love and desire? Desire concerns only he who is desired; love, all of society needs to know about it. When you love someone, you need the world to know it.” He opposed gay marriage and adoption, he eventually got around to saying.

Chirac for Hollande?

When former president Jacques Chirac told a TV crew last year that he would be voting for the socialist François Hollande and not his party colleague and successor Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP party quickly rushed out a statement saying Chirac (79) had been joking. There has been no public comment from Chirac since then, but the rumours have persisted.

Yesterday, Chirac’s support for Hollande was all but confirmed when his friend and ghostwriter Jean-Luc Barré said last year’s remarks were no joke.

Le Figaro, which is close to the UMP, then revealed that Chirac had privately told it of his support for Hollande, whom he described as “a statesman” in his memoir last year. Chirac’s wife Bernadette has been campaigning for Sarkozy, but Le Figaro reports she is the only member of the family who is sticking with him.

Chirac has always resented Sarkozy for not supporting him in the 1995 election (which he won). Now he seems to have chosen his moment for revenge.

Love and marriage take two

Sarkozy is not the only candidate being interrogated about his views on the family. At a QA session, it was pointed out to François Hollande that he never married the father of his four children, Ségolène Royal, nor his current partner, the journalist Valérie Trierweiler.

“Do you have something against marriage?” a member of the public asked. “Not at all,” Hollande replied with a smile. “I don’t rule anything out in that regard, but it’s a question that concerns Valérie and I.”

Others have firmer views. Asked a similar question, Nathalie Arthaud, the teacher who is standing for the communist Lutte Ouvrière, said: “I think marriage is a bourgeois institution.”

Candidates on the couch

For a lesson in the pointlessness of asking politicians about their cultural tastes and expecting them not to calibrate their answers for political effect, take a look at Le Parisien’s survey of candidates’ favourite TV shows.

The implausible-sounding choice from both Sarkozy and Hollande was The Voice (popular), the National Front’s Marine Le Pen opted for the crime show Faites Entrer l’Accusé (law and order), the centrist François Bayrou went for rugby (his heartland is the southwest) and Eva Joly ) of the Greens selected the series Le Juge est une Femme.

Joly, if you hadn’t already guessed it, is a retired judge.