French debate reaction: A draw that favoured Hollande?

People in a Parisian cafe watch the presidential debate, 2 May Nearly 20 million people watched the debate

France's presidential debate was either a win for Francois Hollande or a draw that Nicolas Sarkozy could not afford, according to much of France's press.

Of the big dailies, only the right-of-centre Le Figaro argues strongly that Nicolas Sarkozy can still win on Sunday, having emerged from the debate looking "modern" in contrast to the "dated language" of the left used by Mr Hollande.

The harsh tone of the debate has dismayed bloggers across the political spectrum.

Some criticised the debate's co-presenters, who barely intervened as the conservative president and his leftist sought to dominate the discussion.

'Still the favourite'

Liberation, traditionally left of centre, declares on its front page: "Hollande chairs the debate."

An editorial in the paper finds Francois Hollande "scored well" off a Nicolas Sarkozy who was "constantly looking for a fight".

Francois Hollande and his partner Valerie Trierweiler leave by car after the debate in Paris, 2 May Francois Hollande left with his partner Valerie Trierweiler after the debate

Le Nouvel Observateur, which takes similar political views, goes further still: "The Socialist candidate largely dominated a televised duel during which Nicolas Sarkozy seemed burdened by the weight of his record [in office]."

However, an editorial in Le Monde, which is also left of centre in a country where the right has long accused journalists of leftist bias, reflects: "You can speak of a draw.

"But since Mr Hollande went in as favourite, you can say he remains the favourite. Mr Sarkozy failed to unsettle him, which was his real aim from the outset."

In its defence of Mr Sarkozy, Le Figaro recalls - perhaps unhelpfully for the incumbent president - that "all [Western] European leaders who have faced a major election since 2008... have lost".

But it argues that those other defeated leaders did not have to "contend with Francois Hollande, his dated language and his motley left".

"It is this major difference which still gives Nicolas Sarkozy the hope of winning on Sunday," it adds.

La Croix, the daily of choice for many French Roman Catholics, agrees Mr Sarkozy "probably managed to score points" but "his domination [of the debate] was probably not decisive enough to reverse the trend of this election, which has put him in the position of challenger".

'Angry birds'

The debate's co-presenters, Laurence Ferrari of TF1 and David Pujadas of France 2, have been mocked on Twitter for failing to moderate the heated discussion, where the candidates frequently talked across each other, gesturing accusingly.

Laurence Ferrari (centre left) of TF1 and David Pujadas of France 2 chair the debate, 2 May Ferrari (centre left) and Pujadas chaired the debate

French radio journalist Liza Belozerova tweeted: "Pujadas and Ferrari are having a laugh... Are they playing Angry Birds?"

A mock "missing persons" poster was circulated around Twitter, as was a parody film poster depicting the presenters as co-stars of the Oscar-winning French silent movie The Artist.

Arnaud Dassier, the man who orchestrated Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign in 2007 on the web but has since broken with the ruling UMP party, found the debate "wearisome", marked by "too much tension and aggression".

At one point on Wednesday night, he tweeted: "Pujadas, Ferrari, earn your pay and put an end to this debate which is becoming unworthy of the issues at stake."

Mr Dassier, who is standing for parliament in the Loire Valley, says he will back Mr Sarkozy on Sunday albeit "unenthusiastically".

Parisian tweeter Philosemite, who blogs on Israel and global affairs, was disappointed by the lack of international topics debated.

Wary of Francois Hollande, he seemed to accept by the end of the debate that the Socialist would win on Sunday.

"FH is going to be elected," he tweeted. "Have they pulled down OBL's [Osama Bin Laden's] house? I would be happy to spend five years in a reinforced house in Abbottabad without internet access."

'Extra classy'
Nicolas Sarkozy leaves the debate studio in Paris with his wife Carla Bruni, 2 May Nicolas Sarkozy left the debate studio in Paris with his wife Carla Bruni

Bloggers seized on Mr Sarkozy's attempts to discuss disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), who was once tipped to become the Socialists' presidential candidate.

D4DO_greg, an ecologist in Marseille, tweeted: "Sarkozy is speaking of DSK (classy) and describing Hollande as Pontius Pilate (extra classy)."

Pierre Haski, co-founder of the left-of-centre blog site Rue89.com, tweeted: "Pontius Pilate. Sarkozy has dared [to raise] DSK. Violent."

Mr Sarkozy's frequent attacks on the record of French Socialists in power were also turned around by hostile bloggers.

Media consultant Lucile Merra tweeted that the incumbent president did not seem to realise that some of the electorate were two years old when Francois Mitterrand died (in 1996).

"In any case," quipped Ls01 from Paris, "Sarkozy has convinced me of one thing: we must not let Francois Mitterrand into government!"

An interesting editorial in French weekly L'Express concludes that Mr Hollande won the debate by appearing more presidential than Mr Sarkozy himself, employing effective rhetoric and well-aimed barbs such as the line: "You are always happy."

However, the editorial goes on to argue, winning the debate may actually work against him at the ballot.

Wavering far-right and centrist voters, it suggests, may be put off by "this fighting Hollande with his leftist convictions".

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