France election: Hollande takes lead into second round

 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says a "crucial time has now come" for the people of France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces an uphill struggle in the second round of the presidential election, after coming second in Sunday's first vote.

He won 27.1% of the vote, while his Socialist rival Francois Hollande took 28.6%, the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round.

The two men will face each other in a second round of voting on 6 May.

Third-place Marine Le Pen took the largest share of the vote her far-right National Front has ever won, with 18%.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris says Mr Hollande's narrow victory in this round gives him crucial momentum ahead of the run-off in two weeks' time.

Analysts suggest Mr Sarkozy, leader of the ruling centre-right UMP, will now need to woo the far-right voters who backed Ms Le Pen if he is to hold on to the presidency. But Mr Hollande remains the front runner.

Mr Sarkozy began reaching out to Ms Le Pen's voters on Monday, saying "there was this crisis vote that doubled from one election to another - an answer must be given to this crisis vote".

Around one in five people voted for the National Front candidate, including many young and working class voters, putting her ahead of seven other candidates.

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Whereas Francois Hollande can tack to the centre, President Sarkozy must appeal to the right”

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How many debates?

The election has been dominated by economic issues, with voters concerned with sluggish growth and rising unemployment.

Ms Le Pen, who campaigned on a nationalist, anti-immigration platform, said she would wait until May Day next week to give her view on the second round.

She told jubilant supporters that the result was "only the start" and that the party was now "the only opposition" to the Left.

Opinion polls taken after voting on Sunday suggested that between 48 and 60% of Le Pen voters would switch to backing Mr Sarkozy in the second round.

But pollsters also predict a large abstention rate in the second round.

The BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt says the result revealed a dissatisfaction and restlessness in France, creating political volatility. The elites are despised, the economic future is feared and there is insecurity, he says.

First round results of the French presidential elections

Nearly a fifth of voters backed a party - the National Front - that wants to ditch the euro and return to the franc.

But polls suggest Mr Hollande will comfortably win the second round.

As the results came in, he said he was "best placed to become the next president of the republic" and that Mr Sarkozy had been punished by voters.

"The choice is simple, either continue policies that have failed with a divisive incumbent candidate or raise France up again with a new, unifying president," Mr Hollande said.

It is the first time a French president running for re-election has failed to win the first round since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

Mr Sarkozy - in power since 2007 - said he understood "the anguish felt by the French" in a "fast-moving world".

He called for three debates during the two weeks to the second round - centring on the economy, social issues, and international relations.

Mr Hollande promptly rejected the idea. He told reporters that the traditional single debate ahead of the second round was sufficient, and that it should "last as long as necessary".

Far-right shock

Analysis

There is one clear favourite - Hollande. He has a big pool of votes on his left, and he's guaranteed to get them, more or less.

On the right there isn't the same automaticity with Le Pen voters backing Sarkozy.

Marine Le Pen has solid support, she has pulled off a major coup - 6.3 million voters chose her.

She has a clear interest in Sarkozy losing. She wants his party to implode and her party to then pick up some right-wingers from his party and become the main opposition to the Left.

Turnout on Sunday was high, at more than 80%.

Ms Le Pen achieved more than the breakthrough score polled in 2002 by her father and predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who got through to the second round with more than 16%.

Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was backed by the Communist Party, came fourth with almost 12%.

He urged his supporters unconditionally to rally behind Mr Hollande in the run-off.

Centrist Francois Bayrou, who was hoping to repeat his high 2007 score of 18%, garnered only about 9%.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Paris says that if Mr Sarkozy cannot change the minds of a substantial number of people, he will become the first sitting president to lose an election since 1981.

Wages, pensions, taxation, and unemployment have been topping the list of voters' concerns.

President Sarkozy has promised to reduce France's large budget deficit and to tax people who leave the country for tax reasons.

Francois Hollande vows to be a "candidate for all" who want change in France

Mr Hollande has strongly criticised Mr Sarkozy's economic record.

The Socialist candidate has promised to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning more than 1m euros a year.

He also wants to raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers.

If elected, Mr Hollande would be France's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who completed two seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995.

 

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Hollande in power

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 372.

    France is a difficult country to govern if you're a right wing president, mainly because the unions there are so powerful. So it's important to view Sarkozy's record in light of this.

    Whilst I have little faith in Hollande, it does look as if global politics is now shifting towards the left. Cameron, Merkel and Harper are now facing opposition from Obama, Hollande and Gillard.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 369.

    Sarkozy needs to be careful about publicly calling for the support of far right voters. Although 18% of people voted for the national front, he needs to remember that 82% of people didn't. If he is seen as placing to much emphasis on support from far right supporters, he may end up alienating centrist minded swing voters who want nothing to do with racist and isolationist politics.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 333.

    Sarko will pick up more from the FN than Hollande, but it will be incredibly tight. The French are not given to austerity. If Hollande wins, the EU will be in mortal danger; Merkel won't be able to work with him even if she wanted to. They are idealogically opposed. The austerity pact will be ripped up. Tax and spend will drag Europe down, and the Euro will fail. Sarkozy is the lesser of 2 evils.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 181.

    I suspect the National Front of France is an entirely different political animal to the NF or BNP in the UK, at least I hope so. Perhaps Marrine Le Pen has gained from a protest vote, with voters signalling their dissatisfaction with the principal contenders. But it would be foolish to ignore the message. This could easily be a sign of the Nations of Europe looking to defend their individuality.

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 166.

    Hollande has peaked. The euphoria of Rd 1, when voters get to blow kisses at their ideological BFFs, will yield to hard pragmatism on the eve of Rd 2. For all the grousing, much of it legitimate, most French households enjoy a high standard of living (compared, for example, to US cousins) & will not risk their precarious economic recovery on a new, rash, untested President who will cost them €

 

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