Socialist candidate Francois Hollande is leading in the first round of the French presidential elections, but the extreme right has reached a record score.
Early reports of the first round of French presidential elections on Sunday gave Socialist candidate Francois Hollande 28.4 percent of the vote, with current President Nicolas Sarkozy taking 25.5 percent and extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen 20 percent.
"My final duty, and I know I'm being watched from beyond our borders, is to put Europe back on the path of growth and employment," Hollande said in a speech at his headquarters in central France on Sunday evening. "I am today the best placed candidate to become the next French president," he added.
For Le Pen, this is the highest ever score for her anti-immigrant party, beating the score of 17 percent achieved by her father in 2007. "The battle of France has just begun,"she said, adding that the election was the beginning of a vast rally of "lovers of France" and "patriots from both the Right and the Left".
The left's other leading light, Jean-Luc Melenchon, came in with 11.7 percent, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou with 8.5 percent. Green candidate Eva Joly took just 2 percent of the votes.
Melenchon and Joly had reasons for being disappointed as both expected more support.
Melenchon called on his supporters to turn out on May 6 to defeat President Sarkozy in the second round run-off vote between the incumbent president and Francois Hollande. "We have the keys to the result. I appeal to you in conscience to take on this responsibility."
Eva Joly, head of the Green Party and her supporters tried to put a brave face on the result. They had aimed for 7 percent of the vote but only managed about 2 percent. She encouraged support for Francois Hollande in the second round as a way of bringing an end to "Sarkozysme."
Turn-out was higher than had been generally expected. By 5 p.m. 73.8 percent of the 44.5 million registered voters had turned out. The figure may rise to 80 percent when final reports are in. Turnout in 2007 was 83 per cent.
Sarkozy and Hollande will now prepare to face each other in run-off elections in two weeks time on Sunday, May 6.
jm/slk (AFP, Reuters)