Francois Bayrou, the centrist candidate eliminated from the presidential elections, Thursday said he will vote for socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the second round, dealing a stinging blow to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
In a brief statement in Paris, Bayrou, who took just over 9% of the first-round vote, slammed Sarkozy for going after far-right voters in a bid to pick up the nearly 18% of the vote that went to Front National candidate Marine Le Pen.
"Mr. Sarkozy has given himself over to a race after the far right," Bayrou said. "The line Sarkozy has chosen is violent and in contradiction with our values, not just mine and the political movement I represent, but also those of [Charles de Gaulle] and the social, Republican right," Bayrou said.
Bayrou said he would not instruct his supporters how to act in the second round.
Sarkozy's chances of being elected are looking slimmer and slimmer as polls point to Hollande being elected by a large margin in Sunday's runoff. Le Pen has also refused to tell her supporters how to vote and said she will cast a blank ballot.
In a recent poll, survey company Ipsos set out the enormity of the challenge, laying out four conditions Sarkozy would need to meet to be on a level playing field with Hollande: 65% of the far-right vote; more than half of Bayrou's voters; more votes than Hollande from those who had abstained in the first round; no strengthening of the transfer of support to Hollande from far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
That Ipsos poll of 988 people Friday and Saturday, before Bayrou announced who he will vote for Thursday, found 40% of his voters would transfer their vote to Mr. Sarkozy in the second round.
Other polls this week have shown around 30% to 40% of voters will switch to Sarkozy. But Hollande is also set to take Bayrou votes--as much as 36%, according to BVA poll of 1,414 people Monday and Tuesday.
Bayrou's decision to vote for a socialist candidate shift from his past, after he served as education minister in right-wing governments in the 1990s. The centrist candidate, who campaigned for a tough approach to France's finances, criticized Sarkozy's "obsession" with immigration and borders since the first round of the elections.
While he said he would vote for Hollande, Bayrou had harsh words for the socialist candidate's program.
"I don't share this program as I think it is ill-adapted to the situation of the country, and even more so the crisis that is coming, which I believe is certain," Bayrou said.
Bayrou said if Hollande remains with the program he has today, he will remain in "constructive, vigilant opposition" to the Socialist.
"It's the choice of a free man, who thinks there a solution for his country to avoid," Hollande said on French television after a campaign rally in Toulouse in the southwest of France.