PARIS – President Nicolas Sarkozy needs to beat his principal challenger, Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, by several percent in Sunday’s first round election if he wants to win the final and decisive round on May 6, opinion poll specialists say.

A member of Sarkozy’s campaign team has calculated that for him to have a chance to win reelection, it is essential that Sunday’s combined total vote for Hollande and Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon not be above 45 percent, and for the right-wing bloc to beat the left-wing parties by 2 or 3 points. Most of Mélenchon’s supporters are expected to vote for Hollande in the two-man runoff on May 6.

“Hollande – Sarkozy: The battle for the first place” was a headline in the newspaper Le Figaro, along with: “The curtain has fallen on the first act.”

The first part of the campaign finished on Friday at midnight. From that time, the law imposes a reporting embargo on opinion polls and the media, who are required to maintain a blackout on news until the last polling station closes on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Most polling stations which are in public schools will close between 6 and 7.

Pollsters have “signed an agreement not to communicate with foreign media who want to violate the French law,” Marie Eve Aubin, president of the Opinion Polls Commission, told the press, for example RTBF Belgium French-language television, which intends to do so by releasing poll numbers via the Internet.

The commission has established a surveillance unit to scan the Web and the social networks, and the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel has set up a similar team. The fine for any offense: 75,000 euros for an individual and 375,000 euros for an organization. And a tweet that snowballs? If some one retweets it, it amounts to two offenses.

On Saturday, a final opinion poll carried out for Le Monde, Radio France and French television gave Hollande the victory in the first round at 29%, followed by Sarkozy with 25.5%, Marine Le Pen from the National Front with 16%, Mélenchon with 14% and Centrist candidate François Bayrou with 10%. The five other candidates split the remaining 5.5%, with more going to the left-wingers among them.

Other polls put Sarkozy and Hollande nose to nose, some even had Sarkozy ahead, but all predicted he would lose in the second poll by 44% to 56%.

Franck Louvrier, Sarkozy’s spin doctor (communication adviser), said hopefully that “the polls are contradictory, a lot of voters will decide at the last minute.”

Sarkozy wrote a 36-page letter to the French people before calling for their help during a rally at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on April 15, trying to motivate the third of them telling pollsters they would abstain or didn’t know who they’d vote for.

“Everyone come vote on Sunday, because the forces assembled against us are vast,” he told some 10,000 supporters in Nice on Friday, including Bernadette Chirac, the wife of the former president, and the singer Enrico Macias.

Alea iacta est,” the die has been cast, concludes Le Figaro.

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