PARIS (JTA) – French Socialist Francois Hollande edged President Nicolas Sarkozy in the initial round of presidential elections, with Marine Le Pen finishing with the highest total ever for her extreme-right-wing party.
Hollande garnered 27.6 percent of the vote to 26.2 percent for Sarkozy, the conservative leader, in Sunday’s polling. Hollande and Sarkozy will face off in the second round of the election on May 6. According to the latest polls, Hollande could defeat Sarkozy by a comfortable margin.
Le Pen, head of the National Front, the country’s largest extreme-right party, won 18 percent of the vote, the highest percentage reportedly ever achieved by the movement. Her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, won nearly 17 percent of the voter in 2002 in reaching the second round against Jacques Chirac.
The National Front vote tally is alarming, the French Union of Jewish Students said.
“Today, more than 7.2 million French citizens have voted for an extreme-right candidate, who openly preaches hatred," the union’s president, Jonathan Hayoun, said in a statement. "They already were 5.4 million in 2002. We are very worried, especially because Marine Le Pen seems to be very popular among young voters.”
The results of the first round were disappointing for far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and centrist Francois Bayrou. Melenchon earned slightly more than 11 percent of the first- round votes, falling short of his expectations, Bayrou, who finished third during the last presidential race, did not reach 9 percent this time.
Approximately 80 percent of the 44.5 million registered voters went to the polls, a high turnout rate but lower than in 2007, when 84 percent of the electorate participated.