French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been beaten by Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande in the first round of the country's presidential elections, according to the latest figures released by the Interior Ministry.
With 93% of the vote counted, ten candidates have been whittled down to two. Hollande and Sarkozy will go head to head on the 6th of May.
The right wing National Front party staged a spectacular comeback, with Marine Le Pen receiving a almost a fifth of all votes.
Turnout was high at more than 80%.
- 28.4% of the vote went to Holland
- 27% of the vote went to Sarkozy
- 18.3% of the vote went to Le Pen
- 11% of vote went to 'firebrand' leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon
- 9.1% of vote went to centrist Francois Bayrou
Hollande campaigned on an anti-austerity platform, promising to balance state fiances and raising taxes to finance his spending priorities. If he wins he will become the first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand; whom he worked for in 1981.
He says he wants to put France and Europe "back on the path to economic growth" but in a rather different way to Sarkozy. Hollande says Sarkozy is cutting too much, two fast and wants to plan is to eliminate the state deficit by 2017; a year later than the current President.
Socialist Hollande says he will cut the deficit by raising taxes, mainly on the rich, to fund spending programmes on schooling and state-sponsored employment schemes.
He has promised to cut the presidential salary by 30% if he wins and bills himself as the "Mr Normal" the country needs after five years of President "Bling Bling."
He says that France needs a growth plan, not a cuts package. Speaking to his supporters after the initial results were announced on Sunday evening he said:
– Francois Hollande
This is a vote of confidence in the project I have presented, to restore justice to our country, bring the world of finance to heel, restore growth and employment, reduce our debt, protect our industry, promote republican values and prepare the future, notably in energy transition
Beyond the economic policies that have been central to his victory he sits as a modern centre left candidate: he would legalise gay marriage, adoption by same-sex couple and euthanasia under very strict conditions.
He has said he has no intention of marrying his journalist partner Valerie Trierweiler, just as he never married his previous partner, Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and the losing Socialist candidate in the 2007 presidential election.
His views will jar with the almost one in five voters who delivered Marine Le Pen's National Front party their biggest election success to date.
Le Pen's record score of 18.3% was the sensation of the evening. Polls from IPSOS suggest that 60% of Le Pen's voters would back Sarkozy in the second round.
She took over the National Front in 2011 and campaigned on an anti-immigrant and anti-Europe platform. Le Pen wants jobs reserved for French nationals and to abandon the euro currency.
At her press conference on Sunday night she burst into a rendition of La Marseillaise in front of flag waving supporters and said:
Whatever happens over the next two weeks, the battle for France has only just begun. We have exploded the monopoly of the two [main] parties of banks, finance, of multinationals, of resignation and abandonment, and carried higher than ever before the hopes of national ideas
Voting will resume on May 6th.