April 22, 2012
Paris: Tens of millions of French voters turned out Sunday for the first round of a presidential poll that is expected to see the left oust Nicolas Sarkozy after only one turbulent term in office.
The left has not won a presidential election in a quarter of a century, but with France mired in low growth and rising joblessness, opinion polls predict Socialist challenger Francois Hollande will beat the right-wing incumbent.
Turnout at 5:00pm (1500 GMT), with three hours of voting to go, was strong at almost 71 percent, belying fears that a low-key campaign would be capped by mass abstentions in the vote itself.
Polling organisation IFOP predicted an overall turnout of 80 percent.
Sunday's poll will whittle down the field from 10 to two and Hollande and Sarkozy are expected to face each other in the May 6 run-off to decide who runs France, a nuclear-armed power and Europe's second largest economy.
Hollande says Sarkozy has trapped France in a downward spiral of austerity and job losses, while Sarkozy says his rival is inexperienced and weak-willed and would spark financial panic through reckless spending pledges.
The eurozone debt crisis and France's sluggish growth and high unemployment have hung over the campaign, with Sarkozy struggling to defend his record and Hollande unable to credibly promise spending increases.
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