Voter turnout by midday in the second round of presidential elections in France has been high. Latest opinion polls show President Nicolas Sarkozy headed for defeat against Socialist Francois Hollande.
Interim figures announced on Sunday by the French interior ministry show that voter turnout at the second round of French presidential elections has been high, but not at record levels.
The ministry said just over 30 percent of France's 46 million voters had cast their ballot by the midday stage, down from 34.11 percent in the run-off five years ago, but slightly up on last month's first round.
The vote pits incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy against Socialist challenger Francois Hollande for a final time. Opinion polls suggest that despite making up some ground, Sarkozy is headed for an election defeat.
According to the Ifop-Fiducial poll, Sarkozy has clawed back six percentage points of voter intentions since the end of last week when he went all out to win over those who voted for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round. Nevertheless, the last indicator published ahead of a Friday night deadline on campaigning forecast a 52-48 percent win for Hollande, which would make him France's first Socialist president in 17 years.
But with the gap the narrowest since campaigning began, the president has vowed a surprise victory. If he loses, Sarkozy will become the first French president since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981 not to be re-elected.
Economic crisis dominates campaign
Sarkozy's popularity has waned during his five-year term over handling of the economic crisis and failure to rein in France's double-digit jobless rate. He has also attracted criticism for his apparent "flashy style." By contrast Hollande has vowed to be a "normal president."
Since January, Hollande has led his campaign with promises to raise taxes, especially on high earners, and increase government spending. He has also said he wants to re-negotiate a European treaty on trimming budgets to avoid a debt crisis similar to that which Greece is now facing.
In the first round of voting on April 22 the Socialist candidate secured 28.63 percent of the votes to Sarkozy's 27.18 percent. The far-right Front National's Marine Le Pen came in third place with almost 18 percent of the vote. In a setback to Sarkozy this week, Le Pen said she will cast a blank ballot in Sunday's vote. She has urged her supporters to do the same.
Meanwhile centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, who came fifth in the first round, has pledged to back Hollande.
Polling stations in France will be open on Sunday until 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), and two hours later in big cities.
ccp/nrt (AFP, AP, Reuters)