French elections

AP Photo/Patrick Kovarik, Pool

AP Photo/Patrick Kovarik, Pool

By Tony Barber in Paris

The temperature of France’s presidential election debate shot up on Thursday night when Nicolas Sarkozy snapped at François Hollande that he was “a little slanderer”. Up to that point, Sarkozy had contented himself with the rather more tame accusation that Hollande was telling lies. But “a little slanderer” – that stood out.

Otherwise, the really striking feature of the debate, I thought, was how little the two candidates had to say about international affairs. 

Gideon Rachman

France's Socialist Party candidate François Hollande greets supporters after a campaign speech  in Bordeaux. Getty Images

France's Socialist Party candidate François Hollande greets supporters after a campaign speech in Bordeaux. Getty Images

For a man who stands on the brink of the French presidency, François Hollande is remarkably low-key, as I discovered tonight at his last campaign rally before the first round of voting on Sunday.

Over the weekend President Sarkozy staged a big campaign rally in the Place de la Concorde and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate, spoke in Marseilles before a crowd estimated at around 100,000. By contrast, tonight Hollande spoke at a suburban park in Bordeaux, before a crowd of just a few thousand. His reception was warm, but there was no sense of fervour. And yet the opinion polls suggest that Hollande will win the decisive second round on May 6th – beating Sarkozy by a wide margin. 

Esther Bintliff

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

If the latest polls are to be believed, Nicolas Sarkozy will be a one-term wonder. A president who has broken with convention throughout his career will likely do so once again: only one other president of the fifth republic - Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – has tried and failed to be re-elected for a second term.

The man likely to topple Sarkozy is an affable creature of the French elite. He’s had a long career traversing the backrooms of politics, yet never held ministerial office. So who is François Hollande?