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Panic on the French Left?

10:26 AM, Apr 19, 2007 • By SOPHIE FERNANDEZ
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With the first round of the French presidential voting coming up this weekend, Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal keeps dropping in the polls and leftist nerves are fraying. Royal's husband François Hollande, the leader of the Socialist party, has declared in a radio interview with Europe 1 that he's not sure she'll make it to the second round of voting on May 6 (only the top two contenders advance). Hollande says there's "a risk of another April 21st on this April 22--referring to the shock of April 21, 2002, when far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen outpolled Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential voting, paving the way for Jacques Chirac's overwhelming landslide victory in round two. The specter of Jospin's debacle has haunted the French left ever since.

Adding to the sense of impending doom: the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur and The Financial Times have both reported the rumor of a secret survey conducted by France's domestic intelligence agency, the RG (or Renseignements généraux), predicting that conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy would confront Jean-Marie Le Pen in the run-off vote, in a replay of the 2002 voting. This rumor was promptly denied by the RG, which is not supposed to meddle in elections. Suspicious minds note that the RG is part of the Interior Ministry, which until two weeks ago was run by Sarkozy himself.

According to an official CSA poll, 42 percent of French voters are still undecided--a figure not exactly comforting to the left, since it may represent an unwillingness to tell survey takers of one's intention to vote for Sarkozy or, worse, Le Pen.

Ségolène Royal. Photograph: Martin Bernetti/AFP