France Holds Round One of Presidential Election

Posted April 22nd, 2012 at 4:05 am (UTC-5)
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Voting began in France Sunday, in the first round of a presidential election that current President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to lose.

The latest opinion polls indicate that Mr. Sarkozy is trailing his main rival, Socialist Francois Hollande, by several points. The polls also indicate that Mr. Sarkozy would lose in an expected runoff May 6, which would make him the country's first one-term president in over 30 years.

Ten hopefuls are vying for France's top job, including Marine Le Pen on the far right and Jean-Luc Melenchon on the far left. Pollsters say they are likely to place third and fourth, respectively. All 10 candidates held their last day of campaigning Friday.

On Friday, the conservative Mr. Sarkozy apologized for his actions in the early days of his five-year term. He said his mistake was “not understanding the symbolic dimension of the president's role.” However, he defended his role in curbing French spending to help resolve the European governmental debt crisis. He said France would face more difficulties like debt-ridden Spain if it changes course.

Hollande is a veteran politician who headed the Socialist Party for several years. But he has never held a top government post.

During the campaign, Hollande blamed Mr. Sarkozy for France's unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent and called for sweeping changes to improve France's public finances.

Under French law, the media are barred from announcing early or partial results before the polling stations close Sunday evening . President Sarkozy has said in interviews that the rule is outdated. The law does not affect foreign-based media and the information is expected to be widely available on Twitter and Facebook well before official results are announced at about 8 p.m. local time.