France got a one-day respite from political campaigning yesterday on the eve of a presidential vote that French President Nicolas Sarkozy said would deliver a “surprise” despite the opinion polls.
Recent voter surveys have suggested Socialist Francois Hollande is on course for victory, but Sarkozy insisted in his final election rally in the western coastal town of Sables d’Olonne on Friday that it was too close to call.
“I want to convince you of one thing: every vote will count,” Sarkozy told supporters. “You cannot imagine at what point things will play on a razor’s edge on Sunday.”
He told Europe 1 radio: “You’ll see a big surprise” at today’s vote.
Meanwhile, Hollande urged voters to hand him a clear win today so he would have a strong mandate to implement his left-wing program and fight EU-driven austerity.
“I want an ample victory,” Hollande told RTL radio. “If the French people must make a choice, they should do so clearly, overwhelmingly, so the winner has the capacity and means to act.”
Increasingly confident, Hollande said he would get to work straight away.
“I will have no grace period,” he said. “The country’s problems will not disappear with the eventual departure of Nicolas Sarkozy. He won’t take the public debt, unemployment and social problems with him.”
Hollande held a final rally in the southwestern city of Perigueux, before the campaign officially ended at midnight.
French election laws forbid political speeches or opinion polls from that time until voting stations close at 8pm today.
In his final television appearance as a candidate, Sarkozy raised the specter of France’s struggling southern neighbors.
“What is happening today on the other side of our borders can happen to us,” Sarkozy warned on France 3 television.
“I wanted to protect France from this catastrophe. I want [the French] to think about themselves and their children. I dearly love my country and I don’t want France to suffer what Spain and Greece are going through,” he said.
The last week of the campaign was marked by fierce exchanges and a dramatic TV debate that saw the contenders trade insults without either landing a knock-out blow.