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French elections: Hollande wins first round, Le Pen gets highest Front National vote ever, Sarkozy hopeful.

Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

The run-off in France's presidential elections looks set to be extremely close after first round results last night. With most ballots now counted, Hollande scored 28.59 per cent of the vote, with Sarkozy close behind on 27.09.


But the big story of the night was far right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen's 18.6 per cent score, higher even than her father Jean-Marie's best figure of 16.9 per cent in 2002.

Hard left Jean-Luc Melenchon (Front de Gauche) was disappointed with his 11.11 per cent. After a lively campaign, opinion polls had suggested he would win a much higher share of the vote.

And centre-right François Bayrou (Modem), did worse than expected, garnering only 9.11 per cent after a low key campaign.

Only Hollande and Sarkozy go through to the second round now, and each will pick up extra votes from the other eight eliminated candidates.

Jean-Luc Melenchon has told his voters to back François Hollande, as has Ecology movement candidate Eva Joly.

Marine Le Pen will make a speech on 1 May, but she regularly insists that Sarkozy and Hollande represent the same, in her view discredited system, so it is unclear how she will advise her voters.

Less than an hour after the first estimates flashed onto television screens, a euphoric Marine Le Pen appeared before overjoyed supporters at her party headquarters proclaiming « The French people tonight invited the dinner table of the elite...Nothing will ever be the same again."

Incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the first sitting president ever to take only second place in the first round, will do his utmost to attract her supporters

Appearing with a broad smile, just before ten oclock, he made a simple but determined speech. He said that immigration, law and order were issues which were absolutely central to voters, and that what people wanted above all was to be able to «preserve their way of life». He also reminded listeners that his government had introduced the burka ban.

And he threw down a challenge to frontrunner François Hollande. Instead of the usual debate between the 2 remaining candidates, always held between the first and second round, Sarkozy wants 3 debates this time. He believes he is a far better TV debater than Hollande, and that in a single debate there is insufficient time to cover all the important issues.

Hollande has already refused to do more than one debate. Last night he said that he was "confident". In his speech, he told the French that he wanted to unite people, to change things.





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