France election: Hollande and Sarkozy in run-off vote

The BBC's Christian Fraser explains the French voting process

The people of France are voting in the second round of a presidential election expected to be crucial for the future of the country and the European Union.

In the first round, socialist Francois Hollande won 28.6% of the vote, ahead of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on 27.2%.

Rising unemployment and the euro crisis have dominated the campaign.

They differ sharply on the eurozone crisis. Mr Hollande wants to rework a deal brokered by President Sarkozy to tackle government debt in Europe.

Mr Hollande, hoping to become the first socialist to win a French presidential election since 1988, cast his vote on Sunday morning in the central town of Tulle, his political heartland.

The contenders

NICOLAS SARKOZY

• Centre-right president since 2007, won 27.2% of votes in first round

• Says his spending cuts averted a Spanish-style crisis

• Stresses budget discipline and says only he can restore public finances

• Vows to tax people who leave France for tax reasons

• Pledges to act against firms that move jobs abroad

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE

• Former Socialist Party head, won 28.6% of votes in first round

• Would seek to renegotiate euro budget deal with Germany to focus on growth rather than austerity

• Vows to balance budget through higher taxes on rich and big firms, rather than spending cuts

• Plans to hire 60,000 school workers

• Would lower pension age from 62 to 60 for some workers

"It's going to be a long day," he told reporters at the polling station. "It's up to the French people to decide if it's going to be a good day."

Mr Sarkozy, accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni, voted in a chic district in Paris but made no comment.

Turnout is expected to be high. By late afternoon it stood at 72%, according to the interior ministry.

Most polls in mainland France and Corsica closed at 18:00 (16:00 GMT), but voting stations in big cities will remain open for another two hours.

On Wednesday the two rivals took part in a testy debate, watched by an estimated 17.9 million people, and continued to campaign until Friday.

Casting for votes

In the final days, each stepped up his appeals to voters who backed far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round.

Ms Le Pen, who attracted 6.4 million voters, has said she would cast a blank ballot but called on supporters to "vote according to their conscience".

Mr Bayrou, who attracted almost 9% of the first-round vote on 22 April, said he would back Mr Hollande in the second.

The socialist candidate has also been endorsed by hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who won 11% of the vote.

President Sarkozy, who has been in office since 2007, has promised to reduce France's large budget deficit and to tax people who leave the country for tax reasons.

Join the BBC News website for a special election Live Page on Sunday from 17:45 GMT (19:45 French time).

BBC World News and BBC News Channel will both be broadcasting live from Paris from 17:30 GMT, and BBC World Service will begin its live election edition at 18:00 GMT.

Mr Hollande, for his part, has promised to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning more than 1m euros a year.

He 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.

It would also be the first time an incumbent president has lost a re-election bid in France since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981.

The presidential vote will be followed by a parliamentary election in June.

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