- No matter who wins the presidency of France on May 6, life in the presidential Elysee Palace will change.

There is no future for the role of dutiful partner filled for the past dozen years by Bernadette Chirac.

Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party candidate, is not married to the father of her four children, Francois Hollande. More than that, they are political rivals. As head of the Socialist Party, he was nearly the candidate himself, and he says he will try to run in 2012 if Royal loses this time.

He added that even if Royal won the election, he would not be joining her in the Elysee for her five-year term. "I am not the one who is going to be elected."

Cecilia Sarkozy, 49, wife of conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been largely absent from the campaign. Asked how she envisioned her life in 10 years, she replied, "In the United States, jogging in Central Park."

"I don't see myself as a first lady," she said on a French television show. "That bores me. I am not politically correct."

Royal andHollande have been together since they met in the late 1970s as students. As deputies in parliament, they have offices linked by a common door.

Their relationship is unclear. Repeatedly throughout the campaign, Royal has called herself a "free woman." In an interview last year, she said bluntly, "We are not a couple."

Unlike Hollande, Cecilia Sarkozy has largely stayed away from the campaign trail, even though for much of Nicolas Sarkozy's tenure as a Cabinet minister, she worked side-by-side with him, managing his schedule, his strategy, his diet.

In the last two weeks, the French media has gingerly raised the issue of whether Cecilia Sarkozy has left home, as she did in 2005 when she apparently went off with a prominent public-relations executive, returning with a flurry of publicity.

Asked whether the Sarkozys were no longer living together, Franck Louvrier, Nicolas Sarkozy's spokesman declined comment, saying in an e-mail message, "That is a private matter." *

-New York Times