French rivals hold huge Paris rallies ahead of vote
PARIS THOUSANDS of supporters of France’s right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger Francois Hollande gathered in Paris on Sunday for duelling rallies one week before polling day.
Sarkozy summoned what he calls his “silent majority” to the Place de la Concorde in the heart of the city, while an increasingly confident Hollande staged a concert and campaign meeting at the Chateau de Vincennes in the east.
“To imagine an election already won would be a political, even a moral mistake.
Nevertheless, I admit, I am ready to govern France,” Hollande declared in a interview with the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche.
His buoyant mood in the final straight was supported by the latest opinion polls, which all still predict a close first round on April 22 followed by a comfortable victory for Hollande in a May 6 run-off against Sarkozy.
Another champion of the left, Communist-backed firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, gathered huge crowds on Saturday on the beachfront in the southern city of Marseille, most of whom are likely to vote for Hollande in the second round.
Sarkozy and Hollande both hoped to gather tens of thousands of their own supporters — and the attention of television cameras — to launch the final week of campaigning before the first round on a triumphant note.
Observers were keen to see who could draw the biggest or most fervent crowds, but nothing in the race has yet shifted the underlying polling data: Sarkozy appears to be on course for a clear defeat after one term.
A cautious campaigner, Hollande has not generated much passion in his own camp, but insisted: “I do not want to be president by default. The country is not waiting for a president to leave, but for a new one to arrive.” He has invited popular rock bands to entertain the crowds at his festival-like rally in a leafy area of eastern Paris near the working-class districts that he will have to mobilise to ensure a majority.
Sarkozy’s camp mocked the line-up, joking that the rock group Kassav had been invited because Socialists fear that no one would turn up to hear Hollande’s stump speech, and promised a more traditional rally of their own.
“With us, there will be no concert, but there will be France,” joked Sarkozy spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciucko-Morizet. “If you like Kassav, go to Vincennes, and if you have the patience there’ll be some Hollande afterwards.” Hollande’s son, 27-year-old lawyer and campaign adviser Thomas Hollande, said: “It’s an important moment, but it should also be festive.
“There’s obviously a risk of a demobilisation, since some are resigned to the result.
Francois Hollande has to convince people that change is possible and that he represents it.” Place de la Concorde, just across the River Seine from the National Assembly and lying between the Champs Elysees and the Louvre, was previously the scene of Sarkozy’s triumphant victory rally in 2007.