Why is he still here? Bayrou is having a remarkable effect on the second round of the presidential election, despite as Sarkozy pointed out on France 2’s A Vous de Juger last night, being a loser. Sure, his 6 million voters will decide the outcome of the second round. But a curious spectacle is set to take place tomorrow: a televised debate between Segolene and the man she defeated in the first round. Either she is making a fantastic gamble given her gap in opinion polls with Sarkozy (who is crowing that more people voted for him in the first round than for General de Gaulle in 1965). Or, as some in the Socialist party are mumbling, she is inflating Bayrou’s importance in a desperate bid to woo his traditionally centre-right voters away from Sarkozy.
The problem is that the smell tends to linger when you hang out with losers, and by agreeing to a televised debate with Bayrou, Segolene may well have sullied her stature. The duel is to be held late Saturday morning on BFM television, a time and television station unlikely to attract vast amounts of viewers ahead of a long weekend. The impression is that Segolene has marginalized herself by putting her ideas on par with those of Bayrou. She is not projecting the image of a strong leader that French voters tend to lap up.
Still, Segolene’s flirtation with Bayrou was immediate. While Socialist flunkies were insisting there would be no compromise Sunday evening, Le Point magazine reported she delayed her victory speech to the nation in a vain bid to reach him on the telephone. She publicly reached out to Bayrou on Monday, saying she was ‘available’ for a public dialogue with him during a rally in the eastern town of Valence. Meanwhile, Sarkozy dangled the carrot of ministerial positions to senior UDF figures who back him.
Bayrou’s challenge is to suceed in making the most of his first round score and he isn’t ready to back either contender and risk a backlash from his new electoral base. The suspense of his decision ensures he continues to exist.. He gave a press conference Wednesday, where he announced that both candidates had left messages on his mobile phone, but he’d been too busy to call them back. He poured scorn over Sarkozy, comparing him with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Sarkozy’s cosiness with the media, and his ‘taste for intimidation and threats,’ aggravated by ‘his temperament’ makes him a megalomaniac, Bayrou said. Royal, on the other hand, is merely misguided ‘perpetuating the illusion that the state can take care of everything.’ Sarkozy is a danger to democracy, Segolene to the economy, he said.
With the June parliamentary elections in mind, Bayrou announced the creation of a new ‘democrat’ party. His bet is clearly to unite his current UDF party (whose 29 lawmakers in the outgoing 577-seat parliament owe their poisitions to no-competition deals with the UMP) with disgruntled members of the Socialists. The success of such a bid depends on a strong defeat of Royal in next Sunday’s elections. Backing Sarkozy may have made more sense, but either Sarko ain’t taking the bait, or there is something about Sarkozy that Bayrou can’t stomach. Leaving him to debate common ground with the woman he needs to loose.