- Francois Hollande had estimated 27 per cent of vote in the first round
- Sarkozy had 26 per cent and they will go head to head in second round
- Feeble economy and lack of jobs could see Sarkozy ousted from office
- Polling experts predicted 80 per cent turned out to vote
PUBLISHED: 05:27 EST, 22 April 2012 | UPDATED: 14:14 EST, 22 April 2012
The curtain was coming down on the Nicolas Sarkozy era in France today as he headed towards defeat in the first round of presidential elections to his Socialist rival.
Exit polls predicted that the 57-year-old conservative would come second to Francois Hollande after a nationwide ballot involving 10 candidates.
Both men will now go through to a head-to-head second round in a fortnight’s time, but all polls suggest that Hollande will win it by as much as 12 per cent.
It’s done! Sarkozy, defending his record on the campaign trail, has repeatedly pointed to a tough economic climate and debt troubles across Europe – not just in France
Today Sarkozy appeared to have his first taste of humiliating defeat, with early figures suggesting that he had mustered between 24 and 27.5 per cent of the vote.
This compared to up to 30 per cent for Hollande, who is the clear favourite to become France’s first Socialist President for 17 years when Francois Mitterand retired in 1995.
Polling organisation IFOP predicted an overall turnout of 80 per cent.
Other unconfirmed results included Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in third position with between 17 and 20 per cent of the vote, ahead of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melencon on between 10.5 and 13 per cent. The moderate centrist Francois Bayrou was on between 8.7 per cent and 10 per cent.
I hope you’re going to vote for me darling: France’s First Lady Ms Bruni has a final discussion with her husband, left, before casting her vote, right
Hollande cast his vote in his home town of Tulle, south west France, this morning saying: ‘This French election, the choice for the next president of the Republic, is not only a national election. This is an election that will influence the course of Europe.’
Hollande added: ‘I am in a race where I have to give my country a fresh impetus – and to give Europe a new direction.’
Sarkozy, meanwhile cast his own vote in the prosperous 16th arrondissement of Paris, where his third wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy owns a town house.
Can he do it? Hollande emerges from a polling booth, left, and casts his vote, right, in Tulle
The pair said nothing as they posed for photographs, but Sarkozy was later set to address supporters in central Paris.
An IPSOS poll published before campaigning for the first round ended on Friday indicated that Hollande will win the final vote by 56 per cent to Sarkozy’s 44 per cent.
This would be by far the largest margin of defeat for a serving President in the history of the 5th Republic, and confirm Sarkozy’s status as the most unpopular head of state in recent French history.
Hopefuls: Jean-Luc Melenchon, Front de Gauche leftist party’s candidate, left, and Marine Le Pen, National Front Party Candidate, right, cast their votes
On Friday Mr Sarkozy apologised for mistakes made during his five years , when he built established a ‘Bling-Bling’ reputation as the ‘President of the Rich’.
He awarded himself a pay rise of 140 per cent as soon as he came to power, and then began wooing the then Miss Bruni, a multi-millionaire Italian heiress.
‘Perhaps the mistake I made at the start of my mandate is not understanding the symbolic dimension of the president’s role and not being solemn enough in my acts,’ said Sarkozy.
Famous voters: Disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, left, votes in Sarcelles, while right, former French president Jacques Chirac’s wife Bernadette is seen in a polling station in Sarran
Cast your votes: A woman takes her ballots in Mont Saint-Michel, northwestern France, left, while right, a French ex pat votes at a polling booth in Shanghai
Defeat will come as a humiliation for the diminutive conservative who once promised to reform France in the same way that Margaret Thatcher did Britain during the 1980s.
His achievements during a five year mandate have been minimal, and he will become the first president to be rejected after just one term since Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1981.
Hollande is an uncomprimising left-winger who has openly admitted that he ‘does not like the rich’.
He wants to tax anybody earning more than 1 million euros a year by 75 per cent, and will increase those working in France’s already massive public service.
Results from the first round will be officially confirmed on Monday, with Sarkozy and Hollande going through to the second round on May 6th.
The eventual winner takes up office in a lavish inauguration ceremony held at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 16th.
Meanwhile, balloting got under way in France’s embassies and overseas holdings, starting in tiny Saint Pierre and Miquelon – islands south of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Polls have shown that concerns about jobs – with the unemployment rate hovering near a 10-year high – and the economy are top issues.
Mr Hollande, in his Mr Nice Guy kind of way, has tapped into a fear of the free market that has always held more sway in France than almost anywhere in the West, and has enjoyed a resurgence in the era of Occupy Wall Street and anti-banker backlash.
Investors worry that France – no matter who’s in charge, but especially if it is Mr Hollande – is on a path to debt disaster if it doesn’t tighten public finances and slash or rethink its generous welfare benefits.
SARKOZY: A FALL FROM GRACE
In 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy inspired voters with pledges to break with the past and make France a more dynamic economy.
But after an initial wave of reforms, his momentum fizzled.
His stormy personal life got in the way: he divorced months into office, then quickly married former supermodel Carla Bruni, and became seen as a bling-bling president more concerned with pleasing his super-rich friends than serving the public.
He enjoyed a string of foreign policy successes, improving relations with the United States and Israel, leading an international airstrike campaign in Libya and rallying European partners to stem Europe’s financial crisis.
But voters at home felt forgotten and hurt by a presidency that included France’s worst recession since World War II.
Francois Hollande, despite a bland persona and few eye-catching campaign ideas, has been more popular than Sarkozy for months.
Sarkozy showed signs of a possible comeback once he hit the campaign trail. The shooting rampage in southern France also gave him a platform to appear presidential and project the tough guy image that helped launch him to national prominence.
But in recent days his support has lagged again. The last polls before the election, released on Friday, showed Sarkozy slipping a few points behind Hollande in the first round – and a crushing 10 to 15 points away from victory in the runoff.
If fiery rival Jean-Luc Melenchon, with his red neck-scarves and rallies thick with communist red flags, scores strongly, he and his voters will press Mr Hollande to swing his own policies even farther leftward.
Speaking to international reporters on Friday, Mr Melenchon – who wants to tax the ultra-rich at 100 per cent – called international finance ‘parasitic.’
He criticised U.S. hegemony and military might, looking instead to communist China for partnership.
On the other side of the spectrum, the campaign fear-mongering has a different focus: France’s second most popular religion.
Far right candidate Marine Le Pen rails against the ‘Islamisation’ of France and made a stink about the widespread availability of halal meat and Muslims praying on pavements due to a lack of mosque space.
The rhetoric horrifies many voters and stigmatises France’s estimated five million Muslims – Western Europe’s largest Muslim population.
But it has hit a nerve among many French people, especially after a suspected gunman killed Jewish schoolchildren and paratroopers in the name of radical Islam in a rampage last month.
Le Pen – and many of her voters – link Islam with immigration, since many French Muslims have family roots in former colonies in Africa. And they think France has too much of both.
Sarkozy has followed Le Pen’s lead. He championed a ban on Islamic face veils that he says imprison women and go against French values, and says the country should slash the number of immigrants it takes in.
UK ARRIVES ON FRANCE’S ELECTORAL MAP
French ex-pats living in the UK will vote for a French MP for Northern Europe for the first time in June.
The person who wins this newly created position will sit in the French National Assembly.
Their constituency will cover Northern Europe, which include the UK Scandinavia and the Baltic counties.
Eleven French MPs will represent natives living outside France. Some 400,000 live in London alone, making the capital the sixth largest French city.
Axelle Lemaire, chair of the French Socialist Party in London and a King’s College London graduate, is in the running for the position.
And he’s threatened to pull France out of Europe’s border-free travel zone if more is not done to tackle illegal immigration, an idea gaining traction in other capitals.
However in a Friday night rally in the Riviera city of Nice, Sarkozy sought to distance himself from the far right and appealed to his followers: ‘We must win!’
Hollande looked calm and easygoing as he walked down the main street of Vitry-le-Francois in eastern France on Friday, stopping in a pizzeria, several bars and cafes and a clothing shop to chat.
Crowds were passionate in the nearby town of Saint Dizier, where factories have closed and unemployment is a key concern.
‘Francois for president!’ fans chanted, pushing and shoving to shake Hollande’s hand.
Other chants targeted his chief rival: ‘Sarkozy, you’re finished!’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2133426/French-presidential-election-Sarkozy-facing-defeat-voters-polls-round-ballot.html#ixzz1s2prTdwK