Paris, Apr 22: Voting began today in France in President Nicolas Sarkozy's uncertain bid for re-election, with polls showing that many French are dissatisfied with his response to concerns about the economy and jobs.
The voting will winnow down a list of 10 candidates from across the political spectrum to two finalists for the decisive runoff on May 6, which will set a course for the next five years in this pillar of the European Union.
Polls for months have showed that the conservative Sarkozy—who has been relatively unpopular for months, if not years—and Francois Hollande, a Socialist, are likely to make the cut.
“This is an election that will weigh on the future of Europe. That's why many people are watching us,” said Hollande after voting in Tulle, a town in central France.
“They're wondering not so much what the winner's name will be, but especially what policies will follow.”
“That's why I'm not in a competition just of personalities. I am in a competition in which I must give new breath of life to my country and a new commitment to Europe,” he added, urging a big turnout from voters.
Sarkozy, defending his record on the campaign trail, has repeatedly pointed to a tough economic climate and debt troubles across Europe, not just in France.
But with turnout a looming question, surprises could await among candidates including far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, Communist-backed firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon or centrist Francois Bayrou.
While these candidates are not expected to win, a strong performance by one or all of them could cast a shadow over the second round vote. Polls show the five other candidates are expected to receive low single-digit percentages.
Balloting got under way yesterday in France's embassies and overseas holdings. Polls have shown that concerns about jobs—with the unemployment rate hovering near a 10-year high—and the economy are top issues.
The campaign has often centred on hot-button issues such as immigration, Islam in France, and calls for taxes on the rich, which experts suggest will in fact have little effect on France's high state budget deficit.
TV images showed Hollande and several other candidates voting at polling stations around France. Some voters expressed disappointment about the crop of presidential aspirants, while others say France needs a new track.
“I think most people are not satisfied with the last five years, people want change, especially in terms of job creation,” said voter Eli Lazovsky, a 38-year-old hotel manager, after casting a ballot in a well-to-do Paris neighbourhood off the Champs-Elysees.
The Interior Ministry was expected to release its first estimates of turnout around midday. A high abstention rate could alter the political terrain by giving more influence to more ideological, and less centrist, voters.
The presidential election will determine the make-up of the next government and will finish just a month before elections for the National Assembly that is currently controlled by Sarkozy's conservatives.