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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
A family campaign in France
By Petru Clej
BBC News

Thomas Hollande and Segolene Royal campaigning
Thomas Hollande runs his mother's campaign website
There was a surprise for French voters after polls closed on 22 April, when everyone was expecting a reaction from Socialist candidate Segolene Royal to the first-round result.

"We're convinced that there will be a real mobilisation behind her," Thomas Hollande, a 21-year-old handsome law student, told TV stations. Ms Royal was second, behind Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential race.

Thomas Hollande is no ordinary Socialist activist. He is the eldest among the four children of Segolene Royal and her partner Francois Hollande, who leads the Socialist Party.

Not only that, but he is in charge of the internet site Segosphere, designed with the help of a few of his colleagues from Sorbonne University and intended to draw young voters towards Segolene Royal.

Splits and reunions

For his part, centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has been constantly seen campaigning alongside his wife, Cecilia, a glamorous public relations executive.

Nicolas Sarkozy, his stepdaughters and Cecilia (far right) on election day
Mr Sarkozy voted with his wife and two stepdaughters (centre)
The couple have a son and each of them also has two children from a previous marriage.

"Pierre and Jean, my two elder sons, will vote for the first time this year. Their support, as well as my wife Cecilia's, and that of my youngest son, Louis, will be in the months to come more precious than I can express in words," Mr Sarkozy writes on his official campaign website.

It has not been plain sailing, though, for Mr Sarkozy. In 2005, when he returned to government as interior minister, he and his wife separated, in the full glare of the media.

But after the riots of that autumn, when Mr Sarkozy was under fire for calling delinquent youngsters in the troubled suburbs "rabble", Cecilia Sarkozy returned to her husband, apparently restoring his confidence and his will to win.

There were rumours during the campaign of a further split, but on polling day Nicolas and Cecilia, together with her daughters, Jeanne-Marie and Judith, voted together in the posh Paris suburb of Neuilly, were he was mayor from 1983 to 2002.

And what happens after the election?

New roles

If Ms Royal wins, she will not only be the first woman head of state in the history of France - she will be the partner of the party leader whose followers backed her presidential bid.

Jacques Chirac and his grandson, Martin
President Chirac visited soldiers with his grandson Martin
The Socialist Party faces a battle against the right in parliamentary elections and, if victorious, Mr Hollande could be in a position to be named prime minister by his partner.

Yet despite his awkward position and his own political ambitions, Francois Hollande has proved himself a very loyal supporter of Segolene Royal.

As for Thomas Hollande, he plans to return to a "normal" life, but once in the limelight he could find it difficult to simply continue his law studies and avoid politics.

Cecilia Sarkozy would make, according to the French press, a reluctant First Lady, although her communications experience could be put to good use by her husband.

Under the Fifth Republic, since 1958, presidential wives have been rather discreet - that is until Bernadette, the wife of the current president, Jacques Chirac.

An elected local politician in her own right, Mrs Chirac has never been shy in expressing her own opinions, which are often to the right of her husband's, especially on social issues.

The president himself has hinted at his priorities after his imminent retirement: he was accompanied during his last visit to a military base by his grandson Martin, 11.

Is it time for a Grandpa Jacques, at long last?




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