President Nicolas Sarkozy
Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy made an impassioned final plea to a "silent majority" of French voters on Friday to save him from defeat by Socialist Francois Hollande in Sunday's decisive runoff, but his chances appeared to be fading.
Final opinion polls showed Hollande's lead had narrowed to as little as five points. But Sarkozy looked too far adrift after his rival turned in a polished performance in their only television debate on Wednesday, and far-right and centrist leaders deserted the unpopular president, reports Reuters.
Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou appeared to drive a nail into Sarkozy's political coffin by declaring on Thursday he would vote for Hollande. In a withering attack, he accused the conservative leader of pandering to the xenophobic, anti-European far-right and being obsessed with immigration.
Far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, who won 17.9 percent on the April 22 first round, had earlier refused to endorse Sarkozy and said she would cast a blank ballot.
At his final campaign rally in the west coast resort of Les Sables d'Olonne, Sarkozy told flag-waving supporters they could still achieve a sensational turnaround on Sunday. If not, he would be the first president to fail to win re-election since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981.
"On Sunday, the outcome will be on a razor's edge," Sarkozy said, lashing out at critics of his drift to the right. "The French people has never been so injured, hounded and manipulated as in recent weeks ... The silent majority should not have to put up with insults, intolerance and lack of respect."
Sarkozy poured scorn on Bayrou, a popular maverick who won 9.1 percent in the first round, accusing him of betraying his principles on a balanced budget to support a tax-and-spend Socialist who would drive public finances to ruin.
The prospect of a victory for Hollande - who has pledged to raise education spending, raise taxes on big companies and the rich, and temper Europe's drive for austerity - had initially alarmed some investors. He would be the first Socialist head of state since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.
Yet French 10-year bond yields slipped below 2.9 percent on Friday - their lowest level since October - suggesting there is no panic about Hollande, who has pledged to quickly pass laws to balance the budget by 2017 if elected.
The French vote could usher in a change of direction in European economic policy towards promoting growth.
The runoff coincides with parliamentary elections in Greece, where voters are set to punish mainstream parties for enforcing EU/IMF-imposed austerity, and comes a week before a major German regional election in which Chancellor Angela Merkel may suffer a mid-term rebuff to her strict austerity policies.