According to polls conducted after the close of Sunday's first round, Francois Hollande will beat Sarkozy in the May 6 second-round with about 53 to 56 percent of the vote.
PARIS (EJP)---Extreme-rightist candidate Marine Le Pen threw France's presidential election wide open on Sunday by scoring nearly 20 percent in the first round. The votes may determine the runoff between Socialist favourite Francois Hollande and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande won the first round with 28.46 percent of the vote to 27.06 percent for Sarkozy - with 95 percent of the votes counted . The two will meet in a head-to-head decider on May 6.
But Le Pen's record score of 18,23 percent was the sensation of the night, beating her father's 2002 result and outpolling Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of a leftist group, in fourth place on 11 percent. Centrist Francois Bayrou finished fifth on around 9 percent.
According to polls conducted after the close of Sunday's first round, Hollande will beat Sarkozy in the May 6 second-round with about 53 to 56 percent of the vote.
It is now crucial for both to win over voters from eliminated candidates.
According to pollsters Ipsos, as much 60 percent of Le Pen's supporters would vote for Sarkozy in the second round, while Ifop-Fiducial found only 48 percent would.
Most voters for Jean-Luc Melenchon are set to back Hollande, as well as those who voted for the ecologist candidate Eva Joly.
People who backed centrist Francois Bayrou, who came in fifth with 9.2 percent, had a slight preference for Sarkozy over Hollande, according to the Ifop and BVA polls.
However, the CSA poll found that 40 percent of Bayrou's voters would back Hollande in the runoff and only 25 percent would vote for Sarkozy.
The first-round results leave Sarkozy in the tricky position of having to conduct a campaign aimed at winning over voters on the far-right and in the centre who could be tempted by Hollande.
“I am the candidate of unity, and that unity needs to be strong,” Francois Hollande said in a speech Sunday night at his campaign headquarters in the central city of Tulles.
France’s Socialists are hoping to return to the Elysée Palace for the first time in almost two decades.
While Hollande's supporters were contemplating overall victory, and the president's camp were breathing a sigh of relief, the National Front was throwing the biggest party of the night.
“The battle for France has only just begun… nothing will be as before,” Marine Le Pen told ecstatic supporters in her usually combative style. Her near-20% support was a historic high for her anti-immigration National Front party, even if it did not buy her a ticket into the second round.
And ministers of Sarkozy said Sunday’s results proved that opinion polls could not be trusted and that the field remained open for the president. “Nothing is certain,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe after results.