Hollande acts president, Sarkozy rebel
PARIS TO watch them perform, you would think Francois Hollande was already France’s president and Nicolas Sarkozy was an insurgent frantically battling to dislodge him.
Conventional roles have been reversed in the final 10 days of a marathon election campaign in Europe’s number two economy, a nuclear power and UN Security Council member - greatly to the benefit of Hollande, the Socialist challenger.
The conservative Sarkozy, a hyperactive player on the global and European stage for the last five years, is racing around the country frenetically, cajoling far-right voters and escalating a negative campaign against his Socialist opponent.
Hollande, 57, a rank outsider when he declared his candidacy more than a year ago, is acting the statesman, self-confidently holding international news conferences and setting out in calm, measured tones how he plans to change Europe’s economic course once, rather than if, he wins a May 6 runoff.
Business leaders are schmoozing his potential ministers and aides; ambassadors are courting his policy advisers; his envoys are making discreet calls in Brussels and Berlin to prepare the ground with the senior staff of European leaders who refused to receive the Socialist as a candidate.
Hollande used the stagecraft of the presidency for his news conference on Wednesday, speaking in front of a sober blue backdrop with the French and European flags furled behind his right shoulder.
Only the slogan “Now is the time for change” on the lectern signalled he was still a candidate for the job.
“French citizens do not want to see a president entering the political arena to solve daily problems, he needs to talk about values.
Sarkozy has never got into this role,” said sociologist Jean-Francois Chantaraud, founder of the Odissee think-thank.
“Hollande, however, is talking about values and taking on the presidential mantle.
He is talking about values and vision, justice and equality, but he does not get into the nitty-gritty of how he will solve problems,” he said.
Sarkozy is sticking to the playbook of his political guru Patrick Buisson, dividing the French at each rally into “real” workers and the “assisted”, “Parisian elites” versus “the people”, those proud of France’s “Christian roots” and the rest.
As part of that strategy, the president cited on primetime television a purported list of 700 mosques planning to endorse Hollande and said controversial Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan was backing the Socialist.