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'Don't speak to me like that!' _ TV debate promises sparks for France's presidential race

'Don't speak to me like that!' _ TV debate promises sparks for France's presidential race

She smiled, then blew her top. "Don't speak to me like that!" thundered Segolene Royal, silencing Nicolas Sarkozy.
That was 14 years ago _ the last time they debated face-to-face.
The two, now locked in battle for the presidency of France, have long been as incompatible as oil and water, his pugnacious, browbeating verbosity a trigger for Royal's temper and her steely refusal to be talked down to in the male-dominated world of French politics.
Their clashing styles, temperaments, politics and proposals for reviving France should guarantee sparks when they meet on Wednesday in their first and last televised debate of a presidential campaign that seems to be heading to a Sarkozy victory on Sunday _ unless the Socialist can turn things around quickly and dramatically.
With its expected huge audience, the prime-time evening faceoff offers Royal her best and possibly final chance to bring her conservative rival down a peg or two. It promises high drama for a campaign that has been filled with twists and surprises, energizing voters eager to steer France out of its doldrums.
When they debated in a TV studio in 1993 they were both political youngsters. The resulting "don't speak to me like that!" outburst from Royal can now be watched on the Internet. She compared him to a "steamroller" and said, "All the television viewers can see that what you are saying is completely off-base!"
But both are formidable talkers, equally combative and prone to override television interviewers who try to butt in. But it would likely require a complete loss of cool, major mistakes or a blatantly misogynistic attack by Sarkozy _ which all seem very unlikely from a now seasoned, media-savvy campaigner _ for Wednesday's debate to significantly boost Royal's chances of being elected the first woman president of France.
Polls have for months put Sarkozy ahead and still make him the frontrunner for Sunday. He finished five percentage points ahead of Royal in the first-round vote on April 22, which eliminated the 10 other initial candidates.
Polls also show that a large majority of voters are already sure of their choice for the runoff, which does not appear to leave Royal much room to make up lost ground. Even she has started to acknowledge that topping him will be tough. In short, the debate is more Sarkozy's to lose than hers to win.
But even if it does not significantly influence the final result, the face-to-face comparison of their platforms could help bring some clarity to issues where Sarkozy and Royal have flip-flopped or been vague as they sought to reach voters beyond their own left-right divide.
For Royal, those issues would include France's 35-hour work week, which she has both criticized and praised. Sarkozy, meanwhile, has walked a tightrope between free market ideas and pledges to shield workers from globalization's negative effects, the shifting of jobs to more dynamic and cheaper economies abroad, and "hoodlum bosses" who take off with bloated severance packages amid layoffs.
Both candidates are pragmatists, playing to voters who crave but also are worried by change and who are deeply attached to France's generous but expensive social protections. That can make both Royal and Sarkozy hard to pigeon-hole.
"This might play on personality, and according to the way each one presents their personality," Etienne Schweisguth, a research director at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, said of the debate.
The French did not get a televised runoff duel in the last election in 2002, because incumbent Jacques Chirac refused to debate with extreme-right nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen, who stunned France by squeezing into the second round.
Of the debates before that, the most memorable was the withering dismantling of Chirac by incumbent Socialist Francois Mitterrand in 1988. Mitterrand essentially accused his rival of lying and put him down with biting sarcasm.
Aides of Royal and Sarkozy organized Wednesday's debate down to the smallest detail. The candidates will face off for two hours, seated at a wooden table and filmed by at least eight cameras. They drew lots to see who will sit where. Fittingly, chance put Royal on the left of the TV screen, and Sarkozy on the right.
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Marco Chown Oved in Paris contributed to this report.
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On the Web:
http://6.upload.dailymotion.com/video/x1soq1_royal-vs-sarkozy-le
tives-1993


Updated : 2021-04-10 20:48 GMT+08:00