Socialist leader Francois Hollande beat incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy in the first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday. Partial results showed Mr Hollande led with more than 28% of votes, followed by Mr Sarkozy at 26% of votes.
Mr Hollande now faces a run off election with Mr Sarkozy on 6 May. Both will have to win over voters of far right leader Marine Le Pen who won nearly one in five votes. Initially, Le Pen had stressed economic issues, calling for France to leave the Euro, but in final days had returned to curbing immigration.
While the fourth place and far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon declared he would be backing Mr Hollande in the second round, centrist candidate Francois Bayrou who came in fifth with 9% of the vote has yet to declare who he will back.
Mr Sarkozy now faces a tough battle to convince voters on the right about his immigration policies and promises to uphold conservative family values and the Christian heritage of France.
Mr Hollande on the other hand, has pursued a cautious campaign, preferring to focus on taxing high income earners and reducing the rigid austerity measures that Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have spearheaded as the way out of the Eurozone crisis.
Some observers have claimed Mr Sarkozy's strategy to date has backfired, and that he has little hope of beating Hollande, but others, including Dr Reuben Wong, Council Member at SIIA and Assistant Professor of Political Science at NUS, have not ruled him out of the race yet.
"Sarkozy may still wrest victory from Hollande in the runoff on 6 May if he manages to secure support from centrist and far-right voters. But if Hollande can ride on current anti-Sarkozy and anti-austerity sentiment over the next 10 days, then a new French President will be elected. He will need to stay the course of structural reforms and budget cuts, or risk undermining confidence in the eurozone reforms brokered by Merkel and Sarkozy."
Since Sunday, Sarkozy has ruled out a deal with Le Pen, but disputed the notion that her voters were "people with extreme-right ideas."
Hollande meanwhile, has rejected a challenge from Sarkozy to have three public debates. Run off candidates usually have one. Martine Aubrey, head of the Socialist party said four out of five French voters had said no to Sarkozy, indicating that France was eager for political change and a change of president.
Report: French presidential election: Hollande on top but Le Pen delivers record result (The Guardian, 22 April 2012)
Report: French elections: Is it over for Sarkozy? (BBC News, 23 April 2012)
Report: Le Pen Picks Up Father's Mantle in France (WSJ, 24 April 2012)