France heads to the polls today — with French President Nicolas Sarkozy facing a big political challenge:
Voters were turning out Sunday in solid numbers for the first round of France’s presidential election, with conservative
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political career on the line amid frustration over his personal style and inability to turn around a stagnant French economy.
Sunday’s balloting will trim down a list of 10 candidates from across the political spectrum to two finalists for a decisive May 6 runoff, which will set a course for the next five years in this pillar of the European Union.
The Interior Ministry said early turnout figures showed 28 percent of France’s 44-million-plus voters cast ballots before noon — less than the 31 percent in 2007 at the same time, but more than in the four previous races
Sarkozy and his main expected challenger, Socialist nominee Francois Hollande, have pushed for a strong turnout on the idea that it would help the political mainstream and dilute the impact of more ideological voters.
Polls for months have shown that Sarkozy and Hollande are likely to make the cut — and suggest Hollande would win the campaign finale.
“This is an election that will weigh on the future of Europe. That’s why many people are watching us,” said Hollande after voting in Tulle, a town in central France. “They’re wondering not so much what the winner’s name will be, but especially what policies will follow.”
France voted on Sunday in round one of a presidential ballot where frustration at high unemployment and a weak economy have left Nicolas Sarkozy on track to become the first French leader to lose a re-election bid in more than 30 years.
In a contest driven as much by a dislike of his showy style and failure to create jobs as by policy differences, Sarkozy and Socialist rival Francois Hollande are poised to beat eight other candidates to reach a May 6 runoff, where polls give Hollande a double-digit lead.
Hollande, 57, 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 be only France’s second left-wing leader since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, and its first since Francois Mitterrand, who beat incumbent Valery Giscard-d’Estaing in 1981 and ruled until 1995.
“France needs a radical change of direction, mainly on the economy,” said Jean-Noel Harvet, a public sector worker in the northern town of Cambrai, where hundreds queued to cast their vote at the town hall.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy cast his ballot Sunday in the country’s presidential elections as he fought to keep his job in the face of challenges from nine other candidates.
Sarkozy voted with his wife Carla Bruni in Paris.
Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who has mounted a strong effort to unseat the center-right Sarkozy, voted earlier in the city of Tulle.
He urged the left to unite behind him as he cast his vote.
“We must bring together the left, and before we bring together the left, we must bring together the Socialists. It’s a process, and I think that I have the capacity to do it,” he said.
Pierre Oriacombu, a business consultant, told CNN he was voting for the incumbent.
“We have a lot of problems, and I think Nicolas Sarkozy does a better job with these problems than many others,” he said.
But Julien Ceval, voting at the same polling station as Sarkozy and Oriacombu, is backing Hollande.
“We need to stop Nicolas Sarkozy and to make a change,” said Ceval, an engineer. “I’m not really sure Hollande is the man who will change France but I want to try.”
More than 70% French voters had cast ballots by late afternoon, the Interior Ministry announced.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, François Hollande, are racing to get ahead in the first round of French elections Sunday. But if history is any guide, trying to guess who will be the next president of France using the first round of the elections as a proxy may be a dangerous exercise.
Here are the results of the first round of the last six presidential elections in France.
2007 Sarkozy 32% Royal 26% Le Pen 10%
2002 Chriac 20% Le Pen 17% Jospin 16%
1995 Jospin 23% Chirac 21% Balladur 19%
1988 Mitterrand 34% Chirac 17% Barre 17%
1981 Giscard 28% Mitterrand 26% Marchais 15%
1974 Mitterrand 43% Giscard 33% Chaban Delmas 15%
In each line, from left to right, the candidates have been ordered by the percentage of votes they garnered. So: if these data were any indication to the election’s final result, the first column on the left should be a list of the Élysée tenants in the past 44 years, right?
That’s not the case.
If the first round were a reliable indicator, Socialist candidate François Mitterrand would have been elected president in 1974, when he scored a stellar 43%, not far from the 50% threshold that would have handed him the presidency with no need for more voting. In reality, he had to wait seven years to push Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a conservative, out of the Élysée. In 1981, when Messrs. Giscard and Mitterrand ran against each other again, Mr. Giscard’s first-round 3 percentage point lead on his competitor wasn’t enough to secure him a second mandate.