Good News from France. A borders and culture conservative is actually fourth in the voting.
PARIS – French voters turned out in force Sunday to choose a new president in one of the country’s most suspense-filled elections in recent times, after a frenzied campaign by a dozen contenders left voters undecided but eager for a say.
Early turnout reached levels not seen since 1981, soaring in the first four hours of voting to one-third of France’s 44.5 million-strong electorate, the Interior Ministry said.
Only four candidates, including the conservative front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Segolene Royal, had a real chance of being among the top two to reach a final round of voting May 6. Francois Bayrou, a lawmaker with farm roots, is a wild card.
The new president will succeed Jacques Chirac, who ends 12 years as head of state at the close of his second mandate, and must revive a large but listless economy and bring alienated young Muslims into French life.
At least one-third of the electorate has said it was undecided ahead of the vote, and their ballots could skew soundings from opinion polls.
“There will, indeed, be a big change after the elections,” said 80-year-old Colette Martin, voting in Versailles, west of Paris. “Another generation will come to power.”
All three leading contenders are in their fifties with backgrounds that set them apart from the old guard political elite. Each has promised a new approach to politics and each has vowed to change the status quo. Royal is the first woman to become a serious contender for the French presidency.
The nation was also watching Jean-Marie Le Pen, the extreme right leader who places fourth in polls and who unexpectedly reached the second round in 2002. The anti-immigrant candidate who blames newcomers for France’s problems has promised another “big surprise” this year.
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