Sarkozy rules out Bayrou as prime minister

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is fighting an uphill battle to catch up his Socialist Party challenger ahead of Sunday's presidential runoff, ruled out naming centrist Francois Bayrou as prime minister if re-elected.

Bayrou scored just 9.1 percent in an April 22 presidential first round, coming fifth, but Sarkozy sorely needs as many of his supporters as possible to vote for him on May 6.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had suggested before the first round that Bayrou could make an able prime minister, suggesting the conservatives were reaching out to him, but Sarkozy's comments made a deal for the runoff appear unlikely.

"Francois Hollande is a perfectly remarkable man but what is a prime minister? It's the head of the parliamentary majority," Sarkozy told RMC radio on Tuesday.

"In the division of duties between the prime minister and the president, the president speaks for all the people and the prime minister for the majority. It's difficult to have a minority prime minister in a parliamentary majority."

Opinion polls show Bayrou's supporters are split evenly between Sarkozy and Hollande, with roughly a third planning to vote for each and the rest undecided or abstaining.

Bayrou has criticised Sarkozy's efforts to reach out to both centrist and far-right voters in the days since National Front leader Marine Le Pen scored a surprise 17.9 percent in round one, making her much more of a kingmaker than the centrist.

Le Pen told supporters at a Joan of Arc celebration on Tuesday that she would cast a blank vote in the runoff but would leave her supporters to make their own choices.

Sarkozy was to address his own political rally later on Tuesday as he competes with annual trade union marches to draw May Day crowds. Hollande made his own speech in central France at a memorial to late Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Beregovoy, who took his life on May 1, 1993.

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