Credit: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
French voters cast ballots on Sunday in the runoff of a closely watched presidential election that will have significant implications for Europe and the euro as the region struggles to emerge from a prolonged economic malaise.
Opinion polls in the final days showed the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, maintaining a narrow lead over PresidentNicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity, along with other incumbent leaders across Europe, has succumbed to the powerful undertow of unemployment, austerity and looming recession.
With anxieties rising again over the fate of the single currency, the election in France — as well as a snap parliamentary election in Greece on Sunday — is being closely watched in European capitals and particularly in Berlin, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has led the drive to cure the euro zone debt and banking crisis with deep budget cuts and caps on future spending.
Such policies have come at a heavy political price for many of Europe’s leaders, whose opponents, emboldened by waves of voter resentment, have vowed to challenge the German push for deficit and debt reduction in favor of measures to stimulate economic growth.
In France, the Socialists have not held the presidency for 17 years. Their choice amounts to either doubling down on the left’s traditions and ample — some say, unaffordable — welfare state, or moving farther toward the kinds of reforms aimed at trimming the state and opening French labor markets that Mr. Sarkozy has long promised but has been largely unable to deliver.
At 5 p.m., Interior Ministry estimates put the turnout so far at just under 72 percent, slightly below than the 75 percent who have voted at the same point in the runoff vote five years ago between Mr. Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, a Socialist, and Mr. Hollande’s former partner. About 46 million voters are registered for the runoff.
The last polling stations were scheduled to close at 8 p.m. and the first official result estimates were expected shortly thereafter. French law bars the early publication of exit polls, although media organizations in neighboring Belgium and Switzerland were expected to publish initial results online from districts where the polls close at 6 p.m. as soon as they are available — around 6:30 p.m.Share on Facebook