Photograph by Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images.
The first round of the French presidential election went exactly as expected for the top two slots. The socialist challenger François Hollande eked out a victory over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, marking the first time since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958 that a French president running for re-election failed to win the first round, notes the BBC. With around half of the votes counted, Hollande had 27.6 percent of the vote, compared to Sarkozy’s 26.6 percent in an election that included 10 candidates, reports the Associated Press.
The big surprise of the day, though, was the strong showing for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who managed to suddenly raise doubts about how the second round will go by gaining nearly 20 percent of the vote, points out Reuters. Hard leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon did much worse than expected, coming in fourth place with 11 percent of the vote, while centrist Francois Bayrou came in fifth with less than 10 percent.
Le Pen managed to beat her father’s 2002 result, when he shook the French political world by winning 16.9 percent of the vote in the first round. The third-place results seem to illustrate that the second round could be a much closer contest than many opinion polls had suggested, notes the New York Times. Hollande was widely expected to easily beat Sarkozy on May 6 but anywhere between two-thirds to three-quarters of Le Pen’s voters are likely to back Sarkozy, although analysts warn they might abstain in protest.
For more, read Sasha Issenberg's analysis in Slate.
For complete coverage of the French presidential election, francophone readers should visit our sister site Slate.fr.