Could the French Socialists miss the run-off once again?

Could the French Socialists miss the run-off once again?

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    The “Third Man”, François Bayrou, continues to move forward in the polls

As the latest betting prices in the French Presidential election show the big movement since the end of February has been to the so called “Third Man” in the race, the centrist candidate, François Bayrou. This follows a spate of recent polls that show he is now within striking distance of the two front-runners, the Right’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist party’s Ségolène Royal.

This could be critical because of the way the French electoral system works which is a bit like Tory leadership contests. For there are two round of voting – the first involving a long list of challengers and the second, a fortnight later, restricted to the top two in the first round. With the Tories, of course, only MPs vote at the first stage.

The system can have dramatic effects as we saw five years ago. Then of the 17 candidates on the ballot all but 7 registered less than 5% of the votes each. This led to a massive splintering of the left wing vote, and the final election that everybody had been expecting – Jacques Chirac versus Lionel Jospin – did not happen. Jospin came third, less than 200,000 votes behind the Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. Jacques Chirac then went on to win the runoff by 82% -18%.

That has had a very big effect on French left-wing politics and until now, I believed, would help Ségolène Royal in this year’s race. For the left, it appeared, was not going to run the risk of a socialist candidate not being in the final run off and my guess was that Royal would chalk up a substantially bigger first round share than Jospin’s 16% in 2002.

    That thinking might have to be ditched if François Bayrou continues to make progress in the polls. There’s a fear in Socialist party, that centre-Left voters might abandon Miss Royal as a lost cause and defect en masse to Mr Bayrou.

A CSA poll in Le Parisien suggests that Mr Bayrou would win 24 per cent of the vote in the first round – one point behind Royal and two behind Sarkozy.

This could be reinforced by other poll findings that showed that should he ultimately reach the second round run-off Bayrou would defeat Mr Sarkozy by 55 to 45 per cent.

That 6/1 on Bayrou that’s available from Skybet looks very tempting.

Mike Smithson

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