French voters head to the polls to choose next president
May 6, 2012 | 3:47 am
PARIS -- Voters in France are casting their ballots Sunday to decide whether to let Nicolas Sarkozy stay in the Elysée presidential palace for a another five years or to hand the keys over to his Socialist rival, François Hollande.
Final opinion polls, published before the Friday midnight deadline for campaigning to stop, gave Hollande a lead of several percentage points but showed the gap between the two candidates narrowing.
Voting started at 8 a.m. Sunday and will continue until 8 p.m., when the first indications of the results should be known. French citizens living in overseas territories and regions voted Saturday.
Victory for either candidate will depend on whom supporters of the eight candidates eliminated in the first round of elections two weeks ago choose to back in this runoff.
The conservative Sarkozy, who finished second April 22, needs to pick up a majority of the 18% of votes that went to Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, and the 9% that went to centrist François Bayrou. But Sarkozy's campaign received a blow when Le Pen refused to endorse either leading candidate and Bayrou said he would vote for Hollande.
Turnout at the polls will be crucial. In the first round, about 79% of France's 46 million voters cast ballots. Turnout in the runoff traditionally is higher.
Hollande voted in his constituency town of Tulle in the Corrèze, in central France. If he wins he will make a victory speech from the town before returning to Paris for a celebratory rally at the Place de la Bastille.
Sarkozy will vote in Paris. If he wins, he will attend a victory rally at Place de la Concorde. If he loses, he will be the first incumbent French president in more than 30 years to lose a reelection bid.
-- Kim Willsher
Photo: A person picks up a ballot before voting in Cesson-Sevigne, a suburb of Rennes. Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a strong challenge from Socialist candidate François Hollande. Credit: Damien Meyer / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images