French presidential debate evolves into playground banter

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Millions of French households tuned in to watch a heated presidential debate between incumbent president, Nicholas Sarkozy and his opponent, socialist Francois Hollande May 3.

The three-hour live debate was of critical importance to the candidates with the second round run-offs coming up and in June, the legislative election occurs.  The debate was a chance for each candidate to argue his position on critical issues such as the fiscal economy, social inequality, immigration policies and the educational system. The candidates went from defending their positions to childish name-calling when the subject of stimulating the economy was brought up. The quarrelling was almost too much to bear, especially for non-native French speakers who already have a harder time understanding the language.

Sarkozy, a member of the National Front who is running for his second and final successive term in office, called his opponent names such as a “little slanderer” and an “arrogant liar.” He criticized his opponent for his lack of experience and ambiguous economic policies. The president also accused Hollande of representing only the unions, rather than all of France. Although Sarkozy came across as the aggressor, that is not to say Hollande acted meekly in response.

Hollande’s nickname “little slanderer” developed as the result of his claim that Sarkozy caused unemployment to increase by one million people. That would be a record high at 10 percent of the French population. Hollande, although typically viewed as being well mannered with a convivial disposition, did not conclude his insults there. He accused Sarkozy of loving only the rich while maintaining that Sarkozy did not take proper responsibility for ruining the French economy.

Hollande was said to be the favorite for the run-offs, which took place May 6. According to opinion polls, Hollande is in the lead by seven percent.  Part of this has to do with his plan to stimulate the economy by taxing the wealthy. He plans to implement a 75 percent tax rate on those with an annual income of more than one million euro.

Olivier Quereau Lamerie, a politically passionate host father of an Elon student, says that Hollande’s stimulus programs, in addition to many other policies, are unrealistic and will eventually become unfulfilled promises.  In addition to implementing taxes, Hollande promises to create 60,000 teaching jobs and 150,000 subsidized jobs in areas of high unemployment.  Lamerie believes that if Hollande were able to follow through with certain policies, he would create shock financial markets within the European Union and cause a rift in the relationship between France and Germany.

Hollande has also claimed that he plans to create a public investment bank that would lead to more industry in France and allow for the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan earlier than NATO initially planned. This would be difficult considering France has the fifth-largest contingent in Afghanistan.  Sarkozy, an advocate for military action, also agreed with the idea of an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2013.

It is a tough call as to who will win the presidential election. However, with the opinion polls dictating a lead for Hollande and the sentiment that only two-thirds of National Front voters will support the president, Sarkozy may need to forget about insults and work on improving his campaign.

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