Tonight’s long awaited and much-hyped televised debate – the only head-to-head of the campaign – was organised like a chess match. The mis-en-scene was dominated by four concave plastic triangles at the end of which was a giant counter. Segolene, Sarkozy and the presenters PPDA and Arlette Chabot sat at the other sides. All around them were images of the Elysee palace.
French law requires each candidate speaks for an exactly equal period of time – and it quickly became clear that PPDA and Arlette’s main concern was watching the counter to ensure Segolene didn’t overspeak. Forget the quality of debate or good TV, what mattered was the seconds. When it came to conclude, Segolene had a three minute lead over Sarkozy. He generously allowed her to keep some of his time.
The debate itself – two hours and fourty minutes – was not uninteresting and 20 million viewers tuned in. Segolene was a little shrill, dressed authoritatively in a black suit with a white shirt and on the attack from the outset. Sarkozy was Mr. Relax. Playing the perfect gentleman, he was unmoved by her emotional outburts to which he calmly responded point by point. Typically, she was unable to justify how she would finance her generous projects, promising vaguely a tax on share transactions to cover the burgeoning pension bill. Still she managed to catch Sarkozy out a couple of times, and succeeded in her aim of coming across as a strong woman.
The spiciest bit came when Segolene whipped herself up into a lather over the treatment of handicapped children in schools. Sarkozy, who reputedly struggles with controlling his temper, told her to cool it.
‘To be President of the Rpublic, you have to be calm.’
‘No I won’t calm down. This is a justified anger,’ she declared righteously.
Disappointingly, there was no big debate of ideas, rather a squabble over details and competence.
The most disappointing part came at the end however, when Segolene told France why they should vote for her.
‘I know that for some of you, it’s not evident to think a woman can take on the highest responsibility.’ Comparing herself to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she said: ‘I think it’s possible.’
At this stage in the game, the sex of the candidate should not be an issue. If a woman can be as competent as a man, which I strongly believe to be the case, there should be no need to appeal for voters to pick you just because you are not a man.