Socialist challenger Francois Hollande has won the first round of the French presidential vote, setting himself up for a May 6 runoff with right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
Estimates of the result broadcast on Sunday as polls closed gave Hollande 28.4 per cent, Sarkozy 25.5 per cent and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen 20 per cent.
Le Pen’s surprisingly strong show could throw open opinion poll projections that give Hollande a 10-point lead in the runoff.
France’s interior ministry announced 70.59 per cent voter turnout by 5pm.
The number is considered relatively high, but slightly less than the exceptional 2007 turnout for the same time.
The result of the May 6 runoff, the run-up to which will include a televised debate, will decide who will be France’s president for the next five years.