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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chirac-Jospin Debate Declared a Draw


PARIS -- Carefully avoiding a major shootout, French presidential candidates Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin fought to an apparent draw in a televised election debate, the main event in campaigning before voting on Sunday.

Without a clear winner, the 135-minute face-off Tuesday night left it unclear whom the large bloc of undecided voters would choose in Sunday's balloting to succeed the ailing Socialist Francois Mitterrand.

"They looked like they were being forced to debate. They didn't look like they really wanted to fight,'' said Philippe Mechet, head of the Louis Harris polling firm.

But as the perceived front-runner, Chirac may have won simply because he didn't lose. Jospin performed competently and succeeded at times in putting Chirac on the defensive, but fell short of the dramatic knockout punch he needed to shake Chirac out of the lead, analysts and French media concluded.

"The debate was balanced, serious, even laborious. It was controlled -- perhaps too much, to the point of appearing sterile," said the daily InfoMatin, joining in the general conclusion that the match was a "draw."

Both polished graduates of the elite National School of Administration, conservative Chirac and Socialist Jospin agreed on the need to cut business taxes, shorten the work week, raise wages and fight illegal immigration.

They differed over job-creating programs to fight 12.2 percent unemployment, and on which state companies to sell off.

Both generally supported continuity in France's foreign policy, though Jospin pledged not to resume nuclear weapons testing and Chirac left open the possibility of new test blasts.

In the last polls permitted one week before Sunday's vote, Chirac had a lead of between nine and 10 points over Jospin.

But about 20 percent of the electorate said they could change their minds before they cast their ballots. The polls' margins of error are up to 3 percent.

However, analysts predicted that few would change their minds based on the candidates' exchanges.

The debate had been expected to draw 30 million viewers but some specialists said many probably switched channels early on, especially since the first half-hour was devoted to dry theoretical debate about consitutional change.

Among the undecided were backers of far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen, who won a record 15 percent of the first-round vote April 23 with a promise to fight unemployment by expelling 3 million immigrants in two years.

In an apparent bid to influence the debate, Le Pen said Monday that he would wait until the day after the debate to announce how he will vote.

Anti-Le Pen protesters were to stage a demonstration in Paris on Wednesday after the drowning of a Moroccan man reportedly thrown into the Seine by skinheads during a Le Pen march Monday.

Chirac and Jospin condemned the death. Chirac evoked a "feeling of horror'' and said he hoped police would find the perpetrators. Jospin called the death "more than stupid brutality'' and said France should "move with force and vigor against racism.''

Both candidates backed expelling illegal immigrants, though Jospin criticized a law that was passed by the conservatives that requires the young children of foreigners to apply for citizenship.

The two criticized Russia's brutal offensive on Chechnya, with Jospin saying a tolerant attitude toward President Boris Yeltsin was "especially developed by the Americans'' and "weighed heavily in this affair.''