French voters begun casting their ballots in the first round of the country’s presidential elections. Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy will be hoping to prove political polls and pundits wrong.
French voters began casting their ballots in Sunday's presidential contest, with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy hoping to prove the polls wrong and secure a second term in office.
Under a peculiarity of French electoral rules, some 800,000 voters in French overseas territories cast their ballots on Saturday. Campaigning and polling information had already been suspended.
The first to cast votes were residents of the tiny islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which lie off the coast of Canada's Newfoundland.
Others island "departments" in the Atlantic Ocean - as well as the Indian and Pacific - also began voting early.
France has some 44.5 million eligible voters from a population of 65 million, with ballots to be cast at 85,000 polling stations across the country. Voting in the bulk of France started at 8 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) with first exit polls to be published soon after polls close at 8 p.m.
Apparent lead for center left
Socialist candidate Francois Hollande was being credited with between 27.5 and 30 percent of the expected vote in the first round, compared with 25 to 27 percent for the center-right Sarkozy.
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen was forecast to take 14 to 17 percent, with about 12 to 14.5 percent expected to go to radical Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
A second round of voting between the top two candidates will take place on May 6.
The precise outcome might depend on turnout, with many voters saying they will not take part in the election, after a campaign many commentators say had failed to address key issues such as unemployment. High abstention rates are generally considered more damaging to left-wing candidates.
rc, ncy/av (AFP, Reuters)