France votes amid weak economy

France votes amid weak economy

Sarko and Hollande are poised to beat eight other candidates

France votes amid weak economy

France voted on Sunday in round one of the presidential ballot where frustration at high unemployment and a weak economy have left Nicolas Sarkozy on track to become the first French leader to lose a re-election bid in more than 30 years.

In a contest driven as much by a dislike of his flamboyant style and, having failed to create jobs as by policy differences, Sarkozy and Socialist rival Francois Hollande are poised to beat eight other candidates to reach a May 6 runoff, where polls give Hollande a double-digit lead.

Hollande, 57, promises less drastic spending cuts than Sarkozy and wants higher taxes on the wealthy to fund state-aided job creation, in particular a 75 per cent upper tax rate on income above 1 million euros ($1.32 million).

He would be France’s second left-wing leader since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, and its first leader since Francois Mitterrand, who beat incumbent Valery Giscard-d'Estaing in 1981 and ruled until 1995.

“France needs a radical change of direction, mainly on the economy,” said Jean-Noel Harvet, a public sector worker in the northern town of Cambrai.

Hollande voted early on Sunday in Tulle, a town in central France where he serves as the head of the local government for the surrounding rural Correze region.
“Here's hoping,” he whispered in the ear of an old lady. His partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, admitted to reporters she was “super-stressed”.

Pre-election surveys predicting low turnout were not borne out: 70.6 per cent of the electorate had voted by evening, the interior ministry said, just below the 73.9 percent recorded at the same point in the 2007 election, which was the highest in two decades. Hollande has called on his supporters to take nothing for granted.
Sarkozy, also 57, says he is a safer pair of hands for future economic turmoil. But many of the workers and young voters drawn to his 2007 pledge of more pay for more work are deserting him as jobless claims hit a 12 year high.

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