I didn't watch the Sarkozy-Royal televised debate last night, opting for the football instead, much to the dismay of a number of people I know (though there were some who were criticised for watching the debate on the grounds that they already knew who they were voting for). I caught bits of it near the end as almost all the cafés lined along rues St-Antoine and Faubourg St-Antoine had it on the TV in front of hushed audiences. Today I read the transcription in full in Libé (all eight pages) and I was struck by how Ségo went on the offensive, harrying Sarkozy rather mercilessly - rather like the way that Milan ripped Man U apart in the opening half hour at San Siro. She had no real alternative of course and trying to needle Sarkozy and get him to lose his temper was the trump card. That, as I have said before, leaves it open to question the efficacy of her overall campaign but she certainly showed herself competent and assured - which many people have this far doubted - but Sarkozy was not overly ruffled either. He adopted a mocking condescending demeanour, with a number of jabs in turn designed to rile his adversary. At one point he actually did accuse her of losing her cool but she resumed her composure quite well and, as a colleague of mine pointed out today, her anger is a different, less ugly sort than Sarkozy's. According to the Herald Tribune 9 out of 10 voters have already made their mind up, and it still looks as if Sarkozy will benefit. But Jean-Marie Le Pen's call on Front National voters to abstain may yet be critical, if the race is closer than polls suggest, which I think it is.
As I said the other day, the election has descended into a referendum on Sarkozy, which is a dereliction of democracy, however much I dislike the man. The right-wing has hit back with a few pallid efforts at demonising Royal - I noticed a few of her election posters on the way home this evening defaced with the legend 'Staline en jupon' (Stalin in a petticoat), which reminds me of the Fianna Fáil-crafted slurs on Adi Roche during the 1997 Presidential elections, capitalising upon some former employee of hers that too exception to her businesslike manner. A measure of how much this election has gripped France is the fact that MTV broadcast the debate in its entirety last night. There have also been a number of election-related curios going around the Web too, such as this Ségo v Sarko online game ('dumb but it helps you let off steam' said the person that forwarded it to me) and below, a fourteen-year-old televised debate between the two that provides a fascinating preview of this election.