Web wishes show contrasting French election styles

French presidential frontrunners Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy issued New Year greetings via the Internet on Monday in contrasting styles that spoke volumes about their different approach to the campaign. While Interior Minister Sarkozy offered a traditional message to welcome in 2007, Socialist candidate Royal appeared in an amateur-style video with none of the formal trappings normally associated with top-level French politics. Sarkozy and Royal are running neck and neck in opinion polls ahead of the first round of voting set for April 22, with each promising a clean break with the past. Sarkozy promotes himself as a stern defender of law and order, while Royal presents a more innovative image in her bid to become France's first female president. In her New Year's message, a relaxed Royal is seen wearing no make up, sitting in the corner of a white room, with a string of simple Christmas lights hanging from the wall. Sophisticated editing techniques make the three-minute message look like a cross between a homemade movie and a trendy TV commercial. In her speech, Royal makes no mention of her Socialist party and only indirectly refers to the elections. "I want a new republic that serves its citizens, built in cooperation with the people and founded on everyday life," she says, selling herself as a down-to-earth leader close to the ordinary people. "I'M COUNTING ON YOU" By contrast, a somber-suited Sarkozy, stands in front of the symbol of his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party for his Internet message, making a party political broadcast and accusing the Socialist party of lacking new ideas. "France is not finished," he says, smiling broadly and fidgeting like a hyperactive child. "Believe me, if France is happy, your families will be too. I'm counting on you, I need you." Sarkozy secured his party's nomination for the election on Sunday when he was the only person to put his name forward to claim the UMP candidature. However, his hopes of dominating the conservative vote could yet come unstuck, with President Jacques Chirac refusing to say whether he plans to seek an unprecedented third term. The president offered his own New Year greetings to France late on Sunday in an annual televised address where he spelt out what he said should be the main election issues and promising to play a full part in the forthcoming debate. Political analysts believe Chirac, who is languishing in the opinion polls after almost 12 years in power, is unlikely to seek re-election, but far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said on Sunday he believed the veteran leader would spring a surprise. "I think Jacques Chirac will be a candidate. He presented much more of a manifesto than a summary of his achievements (in his address)," he told France Info radio. Chirac has never forgiven Sarkozy for siding with a rightist rival in the 1995 presidential election and, even if he decides not to run, he is unlikely to throw his weight fully behind the ambitious UMP leader. Royal's Internet message is posted on her website. Sarkozy's message is at: http://www.u-m-p.org/site/index.php No responsibility can be taken for the content of external Internet sites.

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