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French presidential candidates face off in debate

 French Socialist Party candidate for the 2012 presidential elections Francois Hollande greets supporters during a meeting in Nevers,  Tuesday, May 1,...

France Presidential Elections

French Socialist Party candidate for the 2012 presidential elections Francois Hollande greets supporters during a meeting in Nevers, Tuesday, May 1,...

France's two presidential contenders are facing off in a nationally televised debate Wednesday, preceded by the kind of dramatic build-up normally reserved for a heavyweight boxing championship.
The prime-time debate between rightwing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his leftwing challenger Francois Hollande is billed in newspaper headlines Wednesday as "The Last Duel" and "The Final Confrontation," providing a sense of suspense in a campaign that, if polls are right, has lacked it from the beginning.
Surveys continue to predict that Hollande will defeat the divisive Sarkozy in Sunday's decisive presidential runoff. Experts say past debates have never swung a French election, regardless of who comes off better in the televised showdown.
In a sign Sarkozy was preparing for a do-or-die moment, former prime minister and party ally Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the debate would be "very intense."
"Nicolas Sarkozy goes into the debate like a challenger, so he's going to have to take a certain number of risks," Raffarin said on French radio France-Info.
Wednesday's debate comes just four days before the vote. Sarkozy has been waging an aggressive bid to destabilize the even-keeled _ some say plodding _ Hollande, a longtime Socialist Party boss who's never held high government office.
Already last month, Sarkozy was telling close confidants that he would "atomize" and "rip to shreds" Hollande in the debate, according to French press reports. Sarkozy also tried, and failed, to get Hollande to agree to a total of three debates, then spent days taunting his rival much like a schoolboy shouting "fraidy cat!"
Sarkozy knows he's the underdog. Not a single poll has predicted he will win re-election, and leading figures in his government are already lining up new jobs.
The latest polls give Hollande a seven-point victory margin, with only a tenth of those polled saying the debate could possibly change their vote.
In recent televised interviews, Sarkozy has been defensive, painting himself as a victim of the media and "a Stalinist trial." At campaign rallies, he's combative and energetic, his crisp white shirts soaked with sweat within minutes of taking the podium.
In Wednesday's debate, moderators from two of France's main evening news programs are likely to focus their questioning on jobs and the economy, the issues that French voters have repeatedly put at the top of their concerns going into the election.


Updated : 2021-08-01 10:09 GMT+08:00