Flushed with their unexpected success in the first round of France's election, supporters of centrist candidate Francois Bayrou are now agonizing over how to vote on May 6: Sarkozy, Royal -- or not at all.
Some 6.8 million people -- an impressive 18.6 percent of voters -- chose Sunday's runner-up, and they now find themselves unexpectedly in the role of king-makers for May 6. But where to place the crown?
"I find it impossible to make a decision," said Jacques Lauvergeat, a 60-year-old company manager from the western Paris suburbs. "How do you decide between cholera and the plague?"
Like many people he was drawn by Bayrou's promise to represent a new style of politics -- "where one side does not automatically demolish what the other has done" -- but now finds himself equally repelled by right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal.
For Daniel Cayol, a representative of Bayrou's small Union for French Democracy in Paris's 14th arrondissement, it is Royal who presents the bigger danger.
"Royal is incompetent in all those areas where a French president needs to be competent. She manages to contradict herself between the start of every sentence and the end. And she is also beholden to people on the far-left who are opposed to everything I hold dear," he said. "It is out of the question for me to vote for an inept chameleon."
Cayol said he will reluctantly vote for Sarkozy, head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, and then hope for a big score for Bayrou's party at legislative elections in June in order to exert influence over a new government.
Bayrou voters included many on the moderate right who mistrust Sarkozy, but also many Socialist supporters who doubt Royal's presidential stature. Many of these are expected to return to the Socialist fold, in order to keep out Sarkozy.
"The right is far too extreme, and Sarkozy is the epitome of the worst aspects of power -- dark and manipulative. He scares me," said Gaelle Dirat, 28, who runs an essential oils shop on the Ile Saint Louis in Paris.
"I do not think Segolene is a credible leader, but I am part of the `Anyone but Sarkozy' crowd. I will vote for her to block his path," she said.
Royal and Sarkozy go head-to-head on national television next Wednesday in a debate that should be the high-point of the second round campaign.
On Wednesday Bayrou refused to endorse either candidate, describing them both as unfit to rule the country. But he reserved his harshest words for Sarkozy -- who he said had a "taste for intimidation and threat" -- and accepted an invitation for a policy debate with Royal.
How far Bayrou's own views might influence his voters is open to question. Many chose him out of hostility to the two front-runners rather than political loyalty.
"It is a terrible choice. Segolene wants to create 500,000 jobs with state money -- it's like the Berlin Wall was still here. But Sarkozy scares me. I am tempted to spoil my vote and just let them get on with it," said Alexandre Broca, 36, who runs a delicatessen in central Paris.
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