French centrist leader, Francois Bayrou (R) shakes hands with Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election Francois Hollande (L)
French centrist leader, Francois Bayrou, who was once a cabinet colleague of Nicolas Sarkozy in a right-wing government, said Thursday he would vote for the incumbent's Socialist rival Francois Hollande, reports AFP.
Bayrou was himself knocked out of the French presidential election in the first round on April 22, and observers were waiting to see who he would support in this Sunday's final run-off between Sarkozy and Hollande.
While Bayrou said he would not instruct the nine percent of the electorate who voted for him in the first round to vote one way or another, he said he had been offended by Sarkozy's lurch to the right since the first round.
"I, personally, will vote for Francois Hollande," he said, expressing regret that his former ministerial ally had set off in pursuit of the support of the 18 percent of the electorate that backed the far-right's Marine Le Pen.
"After a good result in the first round, Nicolas Sarkozy set off in chase of an extreme right within which we do not recognise our values and in which our deepest and most precious beliefs are battered and denied," he said.
Bayrou's belated declaration was not expected to change the electoral map. Polls have long forecast that Hollande will win Sunday's run-off by around 54 percent to 46, and show no signs of shifting before polling day.
Following his second-placed finish in the first round, Sarkozy reached out to the 6.5 million voters who backed Le Pen's far-right anti-immigrant ticket, toughening his rhetoric on national borders and social issues.
Bayrou noted in particular that he had been shocked by a Sarkozy television spot in which his campaign juxtaposed his promise to cut immigration by images of crowds of migrants and a customs post sign with an Arabic inscription.
French centre parties like Bayrou's MoDem have traditinally leaned closer to the right than to the Socialists, and Bayrou was education minister alongside then then communications minister Sarkozy in between 1993 and 1995.