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Millions of French vote to decide Sarkozy's fate (Third Lead)

France,Politics, Sun, 22 Apr 2012 IANS

Paris, April 22 (IANS) Millions of French voted Sunday in the first round of presidential elections bogged down by a weak economy and high unemployment, issues that may spell trouble for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.


According to officials, there has been a solid turnout in early voting in the first round of the elections, BBC reported.


The first official results were scheduled to be released after the last stations close at 8.00 p.m.


Official figures put turnout by 12.00 noon (10:00 GMT) at 28 percent - only slightly lower than the figure at the same time in 2007, when morning turnout reached an exceptional 31 percent.


Analysts say a strong turnout would favour opposition candidates.


Centre-right incumbent Sarkozy is seeking re-election, saying only he can preserve a "strong France". But he is facing a tough challenge from Socialist Francois Hollande, who has said it is "the left's turn to govern".


There are 10 candidates in all. In case, none wins over 50 percent of the votes, there will be a run-off May 6.


As many as 44.3 million registered French voters will choose from among 10 candidates, including Sarkozy's main rival Hollande. The presidential vote will be followed by a parliamentary election in June.


Sarkozy cast his ballot in Paris along with his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy just before noon. He waved to the crowds and left without making any statement.


Hollande has emerged as a front-runner, and if Sarkozy loses, he will become the first president not to win a second term since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981, BBC reported.


Hollande, representing the biggest opposition Socialist Party (PS), cast his ballot in Tulle, central France, where he served as mayor from 2001 to 2008, Xinhua reported.


Earlier in the day, Francois Bayrou, representing Democratic Movement (Modem), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the Left Front and Marine Le Pen, candidate representing the far right National Front (FN), also voted in their respective constituencies.


A latest IFOP survey released Friday showed Sarkozy running neck-and-neck with Hollande, with both projected to garner 27 percent of the vote.


According to French law, no exit poll or release of early results of the first round of the presidential election is allowed before all polling stations close.


Sarkozy, who has been in office since 2007, promised during the campaign to reduce France's large budget deficit.


Hollande has vowed to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning over one million euros a year.


If elected, he would be France's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who completed two seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995. French presidents are now elected for five years.


France is one of the most developed countries with the fifth largest economy in the world. In 2011, its GDP reached $2.808 trillion, with an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent.


France enjoys a leading position in sectors such as nuclear power, aerospace, and railway. According to the latest data, in 2010, France's export totalled $508.7 billion dollars, and its imports stood at $577.7 billion.


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