Meet the surprise favourite for the French presidency

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Francois Hollande Photo: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

If Dominique Strauss-Kahn's presidential campaign hadn't imploded in a moment of madness in a New York hotel room, we might never have heard of Francois Hollande.

But the Socialist Party leader - owlish, intellectual, uncharismatic - looks just a couple of weeks away from becoming the next president of France.

"I thought we needed a normal candidate," he says, "who will be a normal president - normal because everything that has happened in the last 5 years has been profoundly abnormal."

Hollande is an experienced candidate trying to unseat a president known to be a great campaigner.

But as the polls draw closer, people in France are really beginning to believe that Francois will be their next leader.

No president in French history has come back to win after trailing as far behind his opponent in the opinion polls as Sarkozy does now to Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, political scientist Dominique Reynie says.

"This is at least as much a referendum on Nicolas Sarkozy as a vote in confidence in Francois Hollande," said Reynie, director of the Foundation for Political Innovation.