Francois Hollande beats Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the French election while the far-right National Front party takes its largest ever share of the vote.
Francois Hollande won the first round with 28.6 per cent of the vote to 27.1 per cent for Nicolas Sarkozy - with 99 per cent of the votes counted.
The Socialist candidate thanked voters and said the result was a "gesture of confidence" in the project he had presented to the French people.
Battling to convince voters he is the best man to lead France to economic recovery after four years of crisis, Sarkozy faces an uphill battle for a second term against Hollande.
Sarkozy said "the crucial moment" had come for France: "This is about designating the one who will have the responsibility of our country and who will have to protect the French for the five years to come."
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen injected an unexpected dose of uncertainty into the final round by securing a record 18.23 per cent of the first-round vote.
She said: "The battle of France has just begun. Dear friends, French people, nothing will be like before because against all the organised coalitions delivering lies and false poll estimates, together we have exploded the monopoly of the two parties of the banks and the financial world."
Polls show Hollande win
Despite the strong showing of the far-right, a CSA poll found that Hollande would beat Sarkozy with a comfortable lead, securing as much as 56 per cent of the votes in the second round.
Pollsters Ifop-Fiducial gave Hollande 54.5 per cent while Ipsos and Harris Interactive found he would get 54 per cent. A BVA poll put Hollande at 53 percent.
Pollsters Ipsos found that as much 60 per cent of Le Pen's supporters would vote for Sarkozy in the second round, while Ifop-Fiducial found only 48 percent would, although 21 per cent would either not vote or not say what they would do.
Most voters for hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in fourth place in the first round with 10.9 percent, are set to back Hollande.
People who backed centrist Francois Bayrou, who came in fifth with 9.2 per cent, had a slight preference for Sarkozy over Hollande, according to the Ifop and BVA polls.
However, the CSA poll found that 40 percent of Bayrou's voters would back Hollande in the runoff and only 25 per cent would vote for Sarkozy.
The first-round results leave Sarkozy in the tricky position of having to conduct a campaign aimed at winning over voters on the far-right and in the centre who could be tempted by Hollande.
All the polls were conducted for various French media shortly after the results of the first round were made public.
22 April 2012
05 April 2012
16 February 2012