Socialist leader Francois Hollande won the most number of votes polled in Sunday's French presidential elections, pushing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy to the second place and setting for a run-off between the two in two weeks time.
Hollande won the first round by securing 28.6 percent of the votes. Sarkozy, in his second bid for the Élysée Palace, managed to get the backing of only 27.1 percent voters, thereby becoming the first sitting French President to taste defeat in first round polls.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen came third garnering 18.1 percent, the largest share of votes ever won by the far-right French party in a presidential election.
Centrist Francois Bayrou, Communist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, Green party nominee Eva Joly and former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin were the other prominent among the ten who contested the polls.
While Melenchon came fourth with almost 12 percent, Bayrou managed to secure only nine percent when compared to the 18 percent he received in the 2007 elections. Melenchon has since asked his supporters to back Hollande in the May 6 run-off.
As the results began emerging by late Sunday, Hollande claimed that he was "best placed" to become the next President of the republic and said Sarkozy was punished by the voters for his policies.
"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," Hollande said.
If Hollande does manage to get elected to office in the run-off, he would then become France's second ever Left-wing President after Francois Mitterrand, who served two seven-year terms as the French head of state between 1981 and 1995.
Sarkozy, who now faces an uphill task in defeating Hollande in the run-off, acknowledged his poor showing in the first round and said he fully understood "the anguish felt by the French" in a "fast-moving world."
The incumbent is now expected to appeal for support from the far-right supporters of Marine Le Pen. Nevertheless, analysts believe that the momentum gained from the first round has made Hollande the favorite in the run-off.
During campaign, Sarkozy had pledged to balance the country's budget and slash debts if re-elected. He also warned the French public that they should re-elect him if they wanted to prevent France from sliding to an economic crisis, similar to those being faced by Greece and Spain.
Hollande based his campaign mostly on tax-and-spend programs, higher taxes for the rich and promises to cut the country's widening budget deficit. In contrast, Le Pen had called for cutting annual immigration by up to 90 percent and favored abandoning the euro.
by RTT Staff Writer
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