Nicolas Sarkozy vs. Francois Hollande: this is the big one. The official first results in the French 2012 Presidential Election are scheduled to come in at 2:00 pm EST (18:00 GMT), even as unofficial tallies by Belgian and Swiss news sites have been circulating the results throughout the day.
PolicyMic will be providing live updates as they come in. Check back and refresh this page for real-time results.
PolicyMic pundit William Bauer reports:
It was always going to be a close victory, and it was. In the event, Socialist candidate François Hollande won the night with 51.9% of the vote to Nicolas Sarkozy’s 48.1%. The announcement broadcast at eight-o’clock by the French media drew loud and happy cheers from Hollande’s supporters gathered in Paris and in Tulle,the largest city of his home region of Corrèze.
His supporters are right to rejoice. It has been 17 years since a Socialist won a Presidential election in France. Seventeen long and seemingly interminable years of political stagnation. Yet, when their man finally came, it was not DSK,as previously thought,but François Hollande.
Hollande does not have the political animus or instincts of Nicolas Sarkozy. His appearance resembles that of a provincial town clerk, not of someone from De Gaulle. Equally, he has neither DSK’s charisma nor Mitterrand’s politicking skills. But he was the candidate to beat Sarkozy. Where the incumbent President divided, Hollande sought to unify. Where Sarkozy was a micro-manager with a combative personality, Hollande delegated expertly and never lost his cool.
Tonight, President-Elect Hollande takes his place in the pantheon of French leaders, alongside De Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac and (of course) Sarkozy. However, his in-tray is possibly one of the most formidable that a new President has ever faced. There are soaring economic issues, coupled with rising social problems and a big question mark over future French military involvement in Afghanistan. He needs to act fast to reinforce the Franco-German political bond, critical to staving off fiscal crisis,especially after such a tough and Euro-bashing election. Indeed, the issues he faces as President are largely unparalleled in the history of the Fifth French Republic.
As for Nicolas Sarkozy, this ending was never how he could have envisioned an epitaph for his political career. This high-flying and high-octane President has come down to earth with a bump. He will undoubtedly reflect long and hard on what caused such a spectacular fall from grace, after the intoxicating highs of his early Presidency. He may cast himself as the victim, as the fall-guy for a bad economy, combined with astute character-assassinations of his record. Nevertheless, this ignores his mistakes and faults; his perceived arrogance and his inability to connect with the French people. It is for this that he was punished for, not for his record.
Nicolas Sarkozy lost by a razor thin margin, even though he gratuitously and shamelessly appealed for far right votes. He frantically sought the votes of a xenophobic and intolerant political party, hardly a ringing endorsement of his national unity credentials. Sarkozy’s tough rhetoric shocked and stunned; his desperation to win at all costs even more so. In the end, even such last ditch resorts failed to save him from electoral oblivion.
Tonight, as one camp celebrates with champagne and another commiserates over coffees, it is obvious that France has spoken loud and clearly in its demand for change. Yet, as Socialists move to express their joy, they and their president-elect must now face difficult future choices, already appearing on the horizon.
France needs strong leadership at this time of uncertainty and great economic peril. It clamours for a firm hand to guide it though the necessary change and reforms, to emerge intact from a pernicious fiscal crisis. François Hollande has been nominated to take on the task; whether he will be up to it, only time will tell.
10:43 a.m. Hollande: "It's Going to be a Long Day:" Cautiously optimistic Hollande seemed to acknowledge how close the election would be, and the increasing narrative of Sarkozy as "the comeback kid," as he voted in his electoral turf of Tulle in central France where live television footage showed him shaking hands and chatting with voters.
The Real Enemy is Austerity (and Germany): According to Reuters, Hollande's pro-growth pledges have struck a chord with many in recession-hit Greece, including Maria, who said in French with a lilting Greek accent that "a change of government in France can be positive for Greece and for all of Europe."
The Socialist contender, who is expected to beat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's election, has campaigned as a critic of austerity policies associated with the alliance between the French president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
If elected, he has said he would seek to renegotiate a European budget discipline treaty to put more emphasis on growth.
"I didn't like the Sarkozy-Merkel alliance," Mina Korovessi, a French-Greek mother of four, said to explain why she voted for Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round and Hollande in the second.
9:15 a.m. Sarkozy Can Make a Comeback: The final opinion poll of the campaign on Friday, which put Hollande on 52%, suggests the result could be the tightest in three decades. A stunning comeback by Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right incumbent, is still possible, reports the Financial Times.
Polling stations close at 8 p.m. Paris time on Sunday at which point a clutch of exit polls will give first indications of the result, followed by official estimations.
7:30 a.m. Looking Bad For Sarkozy: Today is the second and final round of the French presidential elections. Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy's cocialist challenger Francois Hollande beat him in the first round of elections and is the front runner in all opinion polls that have predicted he will win tonight.
According to the Wall Street Journal, voter turnout as of midday local time was 30.66%, down from 34.11% at the same time five years ago.
The latest opinion polls say 52% of votes will go to Hollande and 48% to Sarkozy (Source: I FOP); a difference of 4 points that Sarkozy will be hoping to bridge.
Sarkozy has been aggressively trying to lure the far right voters. Getting about 65 per cent of their votes could win him this election.
In the first round of votes on 22 April, Francois Hollande came out on top making Nicolas Sarkozy the first ever president to lose the number 1 position in the first round of votes. Far right Marine Le Pen scored a surprising close to 18% score which means that nearly 1 out of 5 French voters cast their ballots for her, an anti-immigrant, anti-euro candidate. She is out of the race in this round but which way her voters will go could make a big difference. She told her voters she herself will cast a blank vote and that they should decide for themselves who they want to vote for.
Run-Off Election Live Blog From Sunday, April 22: Everything You Need to Know: Socialist candidate Francois Hollande declared victory Sunday in the first round of France's presidential election, setting up a showdown with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in May.
The proclamation, made to a crowd of supporters, is consistent with early results Sunday night from France's interior ministry as well as exit polls detailed on French television.
With about 48% of votes counted as of 10 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), Hollande had roughly 32% support, followed by Sarkozy at 26%. Extreme right candidate Marine Le Pen had 17% of this early vote, Jean-Luc Melenchon on the extreme left had 10%, and centrist Francois Bayrou had 9%.
That order is consistent with exit polls that showed Hollande finishing with 28.4% of the vote, Sarkozy at 25.5% and Le Pen at 20%.
3:38 PM: François Hollande, speaking to his supporters tonight, said, "The first tour results represent a rejection of the candidate who pandered to the far right. Never has the Front National acheived such a high score [as today], even in 2002 when they qualified for the second round. It's another signal that shows that our Republic needs burts of new energy ... On May 6, I want a pretty victory."
3:04 PM: According to Les Echos, the results were leaked over Twitter before the polls closed, against strict French election law. Users were Tweeting with the hashtag #radiolondres, a subtle nod towards the secret World War II communications. One anonymous live blogger, Resultats2012, took advantage of the outage to leak all of the early info from the web.
2:51 PM: According to Le Monde, 19.7% of voters abstained. Below are the top 5 results:
2:45 PM: This about sums it up: ''Everyone is voting, but no one is excited," Hervé Thiery, a flea market vendor on the Avenue de Flandre in Paris's working-class 19th Arrondissement, told the New York Times.
2:39 PM: France's trade minister says Hollande is the candidate of the past, Sarkozy is the wave of the future.
2:37 PM: Left wing candidate Melenchon asks voters to support Hollande in second round, and "beat Sarkozy." 80% told pollsters they would do so.
2:29 PM Le-Pen was an anti-immigrant, anti-Euro candidate. She took home 20% of the vote, more than her father Jean-Marie Le Pen received in the 2002 election. Her voting bloc represent a huge opportunity for either Sarkozy or Hollande. So, expect to see Sarkozy try to convince voters that he is anti-immigrant, and anti-Euro. But, can he do this without alienating his supporters?
2:26 PM: French election expert on BBC: The debate over the next two weeks is not going to be meaningful. This election is all about the economy and whose economic policies can help fuel the euro zone recovery.
2:23 PM: What should we make of the French results? 1) The biggest issue of this election is the economy, as it is in the U.S. election. 2) The election result make impact the entire euro zone. 3) Even in Sarkozy ultimately wins, his second-place finish is unprecedented in the history of France. 4) Le Pen's surprising surge of right wing support is notable, and her voters may decide the election.
2:20 PM: The French ban on early elections reporting created a firestorm of jokes, memes, and satirical posts on Twitter.
2:15 PM Numbers update: With 33 percent of the vote counted, Hollande has 27.5 percent of ballots, Sarkozy 26.6 percent, and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has 19.9 percent of the vote so far.
2:11 PM Reaction from the Marine Le Pen campaign: French voters should abstain from voting for either Sarkozy and Hollande, neither will be good for the future of the country. Le Pen's vote total was higher than expected, and their aim is to "absolutely destroy Sarkozy."
2:09 PM: This is the first time that a French president did not finish in first place in a re-election. Hollande campaign: "This is an indictment of the Sarkozy presidency."
2:07 PM BBC reports the Sarkozy campaign is pleased with the results, feels the gap was closer than had been anticipated and Sarkozy has a good chance to win in the second round of the election. When you compare the two programs of the candidates, Sarkozy campaign says Hollande is "dangerous" for all of Europe.
2:04 PM: BREAKING: According to exit polls, Sarkozy and Hollande have advanced to the second round with 25.5% and 28.4% of the vote respectively. The far right’s Marine Le Pen came third with a surprise 20% of the vote.
2:03 PM: Turnout for election appears to be over 70%.
The French government prohibits news outlets frmo reporting the results early, but that did not stop the Wall Street Journal from publishing a piece early speculating on the outcome of the election.
The Paris prosecutor's office warned online newspapers, bloggers, and Tweeters that they faced fines of up to ($98,000) if they broke the 1977 law.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in deep trouble of losing his re-election bid, which would make him the first one-term French president since 1981. Sarkozy told a crowd of 100,000 gathered at the Place de la Concorde last Sunday, "People of France! Don't have feat! They will not win if you decide that you will win!" But the reality is much different for the president, who is running near dead-even in the polls in the first round of voting with Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. All opinion polls show Sarkozy losing to Hollande in a face-off two weeks later.
The run-off will take place on May 6. Because the outcome is virtually assured, the big debate all day in France has been over the French ban on publicizing electoral results. The problem centers around the fact that polling stations in rural areas close two hours earlier than those in cities. Hollande says the ban should be rigidly enforced, becuase if they already knew the results, some people would not bother to vote. A Yahoo news poll said two-thirds of voters agree with Hollande.
With a showdown between Hollande and Sarkozy scheduled for two weeks from now, why are we watching Sunday's election so closely? French elections analyst William Bauer explains, "Well, it is a very pertinent indicator of where France stands politically, and will give an insight into who will likely triumph on May 6. Equally, it will demonstrate the power of minority candidates such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front) and Marine Le Pen (National Front – Far Right), who will hold sway in the second round by telling their supporters who to vote for."
The most likely scenario is that Hollande will win this round with about 28% of the vote to Sarkozy’s 24%, and go on to win the overall election.
According to Bauer, however, there is a chance for an upset. "As tomorrow’s election gets underway there is the chance of an upset. Polling data – after all – is never wholly accurate nor does it allow for people’s minds to change. Therefore Sarkozy may scrape through with enough momentum to carry through to the second round. This is what he is desperately hoping for but remains to be seen."