PARIS: France got a one-day respite from political campaigning Saturday on the eve of a presidential vote that incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy said will deliver a "surprise" despite the opinion polls.
Recent voter surveys have suggested Socialist Francois Hollande is on course for victory, but Sarkozy insisted in his final election rally in the western coastal town of Sables d'Olonne Friday that it is too close to call.
"I want to convince you of one thing: every vote will count," Sarkozy told supporters. "You cannot imagine at what point things will play on a razor's edge on Sunday."
And he told Europe 1 radio: "You'll see a big surprise" at Sunday's vote.
Hollande meanwhile urged voters to hand him a clear win Sunday so he would have a strong mandate to implement his left-wing programme and fight EU-driven austerity.
"I want an ample victory," Hollande told RTL radio. "If the French people must make a choice, they should do so clearly, overwhelmingly, so the winner has the capacity and means to act."
Increasingly confident, Hollande said he would get to work straight away.
"I will have no grace period," he said. "The country's problems will not disappear with the eventual departure of Nicolas Sarkozy. He won't take the public debt, unemployment and social problems with him."
Hollande held a final rally in the southwestern city of Perigueux, before the campaign officially ended at midnight (2200 GMT Friday).
French election laws forbid political speeches or opinion polls from that time until voting stations close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Sunday.
In his final television appearance as a candidate, Sarkozy raised the spectre of France's struggling southern neighbours.
"What is happening today on the other side of our borders can happen to us," Sarkozy warned on France 3 television.
"I wanted to protect France from this catastrophe. I want (the French) to think about themselves and their children. I dearly love my country and I don't want France to suffer what Spain and Greece are going through," he said.
The last week of the campaign was marked by fierce exchanges and a dramatic television debate that saw the contenders trade insults without either landing a knock-out blow.
The French left has not won a presidential election in a quarter of a century, but fears over low economic growth, rising joblessness and European Union-imposed austerity measures have worked in favour of the Socialists.
Many voters also disapprove of Sarkozy's flashy style during his five-year term, welcoming Hollande's vows to be a "normal president."
Sarkozy has moved increasingly to the right ahead of the second round, vowing to defend French values, limit immigration and strengthen France's borders.
But Hollande's campaign team showed confidence Friday, with some officials even beginning to talk about the mechanics of a transfer of power.
Campaign chief Pierre Moscovici said Hollande would take part in an informal EU summit at the end of May or early June if elected, to prepare for a full summit on June 28-29 that is expected to focus on economic growth. (AFP)