|Date: 06/05/2012 Time: 11:37:00 AM
French voters began heading to the polls Sunday in
mostly grey but mild weather throughout the country, which should encourage
high turnout for the final duel for the presidency between incumbent
conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger Francois Hollande.
After months of intense campaigning, France's 44.5 million registered
voters, some 5 million voting for the first time, will decide on whether to
endorse Sarkozy's reformist but more painful policies or vote in Hollande, who
promises to revoke the incumbents tax and budget discipline strategy in favour
of boosting economic growth and taxing the rich.
Whoever wins, their margin to manoeuvre will be limited, given the economic
and debt problems facing France and several other major European countries.
Sarkozy, who has been the underdog for the entire campaign and was even
predicted to be eliminated in the first round by some polls. But he has made
gains in the past weeks and promises to deliver "a surprise" on Sunday.
Yet the final polls indicated late last week that Hollande had a four- to
five-point lead over the president and would get around 53 percent of ballots.
However, around one in five voters said in polls they had still not decided
which way to vote.
The pivotal vote in Sunday's ballot will come from the 44 percent of voters
who did not support either Sarkozy or Hollande in the first round on April 22.
Hollande then led the field of 10 candidates with 28.6 percent of ballots,
followed closely by Sarkozy, with 27.2 percent.
But the remainder of votes was badly splintered between extreme-right
"National Front" with (17.9) percent, followed by the radial "Leftist Front"
(11.1 percent) and the Centrist "Modem" party, with just over 9.1 percent. The
other six percent of ballots were split between five smaller parties.
Sarkozy can count on some votes from extreme-right nationalists, but their
leader, Marine Le Pen, has said she will not vote for either candidate on
"Leftist Front" leader Jean-Luc Melencon has clearly opted to support
Hollande and urged his supporters to follow his lead.
"Modem" leader Francois Bayrou did not give any direction to his followers
but did say he "personally" would vote for Hollande and he heavily criticized
Polling stations opened at 08.00 local time and will close in most areas at
18.00, except for cities where the ballot boxes remain open until 20.00, when
early estimates, based on exit polls, will be published.
Turnout is expected to be high, given the intensity of the campaign and
also because 80 percent of registered voters turned out to vote in the first
round on April 22. The grey, mild weather is also conducive to high turnout as
people will not go away to country retreats for the weekend and will stay home