Early results show steady turnout today, with about 28 percent voting for a president in France, The Associated Press reported.
The polls close at 8 p.m. local time.
Today’s first round trims candidates to two from 10 for a May 6 runoff. The Interior Ministry said voter turnout wasn’t as robust as 2007, when 31 percent voted, but better than the previous four elections, the AP said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t speak to reporters as he cast his ballot in Paris with wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, but his main rival was more than willing to take one last opportunity to campaign.
“This is an election that will weigh on the future of Europe,” Francois Hollande said, according to the AP. “That’s why many people are watching us.”
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Observers widely expect Sarkozy – a center-right leader – to face Hollande – from the center-left – in the runoff, Reuters reported.
France, like many European nations, is battling high unemployment, a growing trade deficit and a declining credit rating.
Hollande is proposing unprecedented tax rates on the rich – 75 percent for those who earn more than $1.3 million per year – to help the nation battle its worst jobless numbers in more than a decade.
Sarkozy – seeking his second five-year term – campaigned on a message of trust, saying he helped Europe navigate last year’s financial crisis.
His laissez faire approach is starting to wear thin in France, though, according to Reuters.
“Sarkozy’s divisive. Hollande’s reassuring,” one elderly French voter told Reuters.
Should Hollande win, he would become the first left-wing president since Francois Mitterand in 1995, CNN said.
Some in France question Hollande’s strategy, however. Under his leadership, France will take longer to balance the budget, and he will increase taxes on the financial sector.
Michael Leruth, a professor at the College of William & Mary, told CNN it’s a classic left-right choice.
“Hollande is in favor of more government action to stimulate the economy, stimulate spending,” he said, according to CNN “Whereas Sarkozy wants to improve the climate for business by lowering some taxes, by talking about repealing the law establishing the 35-hour work week – a Socialist measure from the late ’90s – to make it possible to work more. It’s more of a private-sector approach.”
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