Vis-à-vis a la Français: France chooses president

Today French voters are choosing a new president in the runoff vote. The defending President Nicolas Sarkozy has already claimed the election is on a knife's edge, as he closed in on rival Francois Hollande in the final polls.

Both candidates have already cast their votes.­

The most recent polling has revealed that Sarkozy lags behind with 47 per cent of expected votes. Socialist Francois Hollande boasts 52.5 per cent of promised votes.

However, president in office Nicolas Sarkozy has managed to narrow the gap which was initially 10 per cent.

The first round of presidential elections on April 22 brought Nicolas Sarkozy 28.08 per cent of votes whereas his rival Francois Hollande was slightly ahead with 28.63 per cent.

Still, the intrigue remains . The far-right candidate and leader of the National Front Marine le Pen, who gained 17.9 per cent of votes in the first round, refused to endorse either candidate. She called on her supporters to vote for no one and cast empty vote papers. So nothing is certain until the ballots are cast.

Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy has come under fire from fierce critics of his economic policies and high unemployment rate. During his presidential campaign he has promised a deficit-free budget by 2016 and possible introduction of protectionist measures in the French economy. He also played in the right field, promising to toughen migration regulations.

His opponent, socialist Francois Hollande, has spoken against cuts in public expenditure. His presidential economic program includes a tax boost on wealthy citizens and big companies, and also increased financing of the public sector.

If Hollande wins, he will become the first Socialist president of France in 17 years.

Francois Hollande accused Nicolas Sarkozy of being a divisive president, alluding to opponent’s anti-immigration rhetoric for instance, and promised to unite the nation.

Hollande says he can bring back equality in France, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor.

In continental France polling stations opened at 8am (07:00 GMT) and will close at 6pm, or 8pm in big cities.

Initial turnout figures published by the Interior Ministry showed 30.7 percent of registered voters had cast their ballot by midday (1000 GMT),  topping the 28.3 percent at the same stage of the April 22 first round.

Preliminary results are expected to come in the late evening today.

“In terms of their approach to fiscal policy, reduction of the government deficit, France’s role in Europe and European Central Bank and its policy – there is no vast difference between the two candidates,” told RT Douglas Webber, professor of Political Science at European Institute of Business Administration.

“They both want to cut the French deficit, they would both like to see a stronger sort of growth component and the EU Central Bank paying more attention to plotting growth than cutting deficits and emphasizing a kind of austerity policy.”

“In terms of foreign policy there is not really a vast difference between these two candidates… What makes a big difference tonight is whether or not President Sarkozy is ready to accommodate and integrate and worry about concerns of a very strong minority of insecure and borrowed French voters who has turned to political extremes,” concluded Webber.