French Socialist Outpolls President Sarkozy in First-Round Voting

Posted April 23rd, 2012 at 1:30 am (UTC-5)
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Socialist Francois Hollande has emerged as the front runner in France's presidential election after edging incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's first round.

With counting nearly complete, Hollande had more than 28 percent of the vote and the conservative Mr. Sarkozy 27 percent. They will meet again in a runoff on May 6.

Eight other candidates were eliminated. But far-right candidate Marine Le Pen surprised poll-watchers by finishing in third place at more than 18 percent, the best-ever showing for the anti-immigrant National Front party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She says she will advise her supporters how to vote in the second round next week.

Mr. Hollande said Sunday's results make him the strongest candidate, but warned supporters to expect a barrage of harsh attacks from President Sarkozy before the May 6 vote.

“I have not been spared at all in the campaign so far, and I imagine that the methods will stay the same, this is the Nicolas Sarkozy that we know well and as he is in great difficulty I am sure that he will use fear as a weapon but it will not work. I am the strongest because I am first.”

Hollande says he wants to unite what he calls a country divided by Mr. Sarkozy's failed policies. He also says he wants to boost taxes on millionaires.

Mr. Sarkozy remained upbeat about the second round despite being the first incumbent to lose a first-round vote in modern French history. He attributed Sunday's outcome to public anxiety about job security and the integrity of the nation's borders.

“These fears, this suffering, I know them. These fears, this suffering, I understand them. They are about the respect of our borders, the determined battle against losing jobs overseas, immigration control, increasing the status of labor, security for people and their families.”

But he said the moment of decision has arrived and that he is better equipped than his Socialist competitor to guide France through the difficult challenges ahead.

Mr. Sarkozy challenged Mr. Hollande to three debates on social, economic and international issues before the May 6 runoff. But Mr. Hollande dismissed the offer as a desperate ploy by a candidate who knows he is in trouble.