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Expect a dirty fight between Sarkozy and Hollande

Official campaign posters for French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) and Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande. Photo: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The French take their elections seriously. Look at the over 80% turnout in this first round of elections and then voters have to do it all again in two weeks time as battle-scarred Nicolas Sarkozy takes on the softer, untried Francois Hollande, the man tipped to snatch his job.

What they say here is that you vote with your heart in the first round of elections (and that may account for the unexpectedly high result for ultra right wing Marine Le Pen who took almost one in five of the votes cast) and with your head in the second round.

But maybe voters have had enough of being sensible after five tough economic years?

French election results:

President Sarkozy likes to come first and he did in this round of voting but not in the way he wanted.

He became the first incumbent president to come in second, trailing his rival by nearly 2% and that does not bode well for him. Particularly as most polls give Hollande an even bigger lead in the final result.

Nicolas Sarkozy is just under 2% behind Francois Hollande. Credit: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Maybe that is why a rather chipper Sarkozy took in all on the chin when the exit polls came through and blamed the result on the fact the people are suffering in this time of economic crisis.

"I understand these worries" he told his supporters and then promptly challenged his rival to three debates in the next two weeks perhaps hoping that the less charismatic man would wilt under the pressure.

Hollande is a bit of a John Major figure. He does not immediately inspire his audience with great oratorical gymnastics, he looks a bit diffident. But those who know him well say he has great warmth, wit and intelligence.

Francois Hollande is not seen as an inspirational candidate by many. Credit: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

He used to have a rather unfortunate nickname at about the time a leading French politician described him as less well known that Francois Mitterand's Labrador.

He was known as Monsieur Flamby. A Flamby, as I illustrated this morning on Daybreak is like a creme caramel; sweet, wobbly and doesn't look like it could stand up to pressure.

Well, since then the man who would be France's first Socialist president in 17 years has hardened up considerably. He has lost weight but more importantly, his supporters know exactly what he wants to do, for example, on tax.

He proposes a 75% tax rate for the very wealthy - those earning over a million euros. Frankly you can hear George Osborne fanning himself at the thought.

But this sort of policy could be a game changer particularly among the crucial young voters who are being seriously affected by austerity measures and the near 10% unemployment rate.

The papers this morning all talk about what happens next to the Le Pen votes as all the other eight first round candidates fall by the wayside and let their supporters choose between the front runners.

Where Marine Le Pen's votes go in the run-off will be crucial in deciding who wins the election. Credit: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

It is not a foregone conclusion that Le Pen's votes will go to Sarkozy, despite them both being right wing. In fact the estimates are only about 40% will.

The votes to Le Pen were, in part, a protest vote and 25% could go to Hollande which will really shake things up.

Le Figaro's headline this morning said that Marine Le Pen's "breakthrough" would boost the second round and that is true.

Expect a dirty fight over the next two weeks.

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