Socialist Francois Hollande beat right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in France's first round presidential race Sunday, according to estimates from several polling institutes received by AFP.
Both candidates qualified for the second round, with Hollande taking 28 to 29 percent of the vote and Sarkozy 25 to 26, according to unofficial estimates from multiple sources. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen came third with 17 percent, they said.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen came third with between 17 and 20 percent, beating far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, who scored between 10.5 and 13 percent, according to the estimates.
Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou won between 8.7 and 10 percent, they said, and turnout was high at least 80 percent. That figure was down on the 84 percent turnout of 2007 but up significantly on the 72 percent of 2002.
The two 57-year-old political veterans, Hollande and Sarkozy, will thus face each other head-to-head in a May 6 run-off, which will decide who runs what is commonly regarded as the world’s fifth greatest power for the next five years.
Sarkozy 1st president to lose reelection?
France’s feeble economy could make Sarkozy the country’s first president to lose a fight for re-election in more than 30 years.
In a contest driven as much by a dislike of Sarkozy’s showy style and his failure to bring down unemployment as by policy differences, Sarkozy and Hollande are pegged to beat eight other candidates to go through to a May 6 runoff, where polls give Hollande a double-digit lead.
Hollande promises less drastic spending cuts than Sarkozy and wants higher taxes on the wealthy to fund state-aided job creation, in particular a 75 percent upper tax rate on income above 1 million euros ($1.32 million).
He would become France’s first left-wing president since Francois Mitterand, who beat incumbent Valery Giscard-d’Estaing in 1981.
Sarkozy says he is a safer pair of hands for future economic turmoil but many of the workers and young voters drawn to his 2007 pledge of more pay for more work are deserting him as jobless claims have hit their highest level in 12 years.
Many French people also express a distaste for a president who has come to be seen as flashy following his highly publicisied marriage to supermodel Carla Bruni early in his term, occasional rude outbursts in public and his chumminess with rich executives.
“We have to get rid of Sarkozy,” said Marc Boitel, a trombone player taking part in a street protest ahead of Sunday's vote. “People just want jobs.”
Fallen IMF chief Strauss-Kahn votes discreetly
Disgraced IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn voted Sunday in France’s first-round presidential election, a race that he had been tipped to win before he became embroiled in a string of sex scandals.
The former Socialist party presidential hopeful voted at a primary school in Sarcelles, north of Paris, appearing smiling and relaxed before a large group of waiting photographers but did not make any comment.
Opinion polls said Strauss-Kahn was favorite to beat incumbent right-winger President Nicolas Sarkozy in the election before the then-IMF boss was arrested for alleged sexual assault in a New York hotel last May.
The case against him collapsed, but it cost him his shot at the Socialist presidential nomination and triggered a series of scandalous revelations.
Since then Strauss-Kahn has been implicated in a prostitution ring probe in northern France, although the 62-year-old has insisted that he was unaware that women at the numerous orgies he took part in were prostitutes.