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French voters flock to polls after lacklustre campaign

Video by Mark THOMPSON

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND , reporting from Paris

Latest update : 2012-04-22

Despite fears of low turnout after a muted campaign, France's Interior Ministry has reported strong participation in the first round of presidential polls. FRANCE 24 caught up with voters in Paris as they queued to pick their next president.

Some 44 million French voters are called to choose between ten candidates Sunday in the first round of a presidential election that is largely viewed as a contest between incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist rival François Hollande.

Sarkozy voted in Paris on Sunday morning, flanked by his wife, the singer and ex-model Carla Bruni Sarkozy, while Hollande cast his ballot in the central town of Tulle.

There had been fears in the run up to the election that a lacklustre campaign could lead to a low turnout. But by 5pm local time, the French Interior Ministry said 70.59 percent of France's registered voters had cast their ballots.

The figure was down three percent from the last election in 2007, but higher than turnout at the same time in 2002.

Though lamenting an underwhelming campaign, voters in the eastern 11th district of Paris still turned out in large numbers to pick their new head of state.

“It has been a little boring,” said Laeticia Pasquet as she queued outside a polling station on avenue Parmentier. “The main candidates have already been in the media for so long now. We might as well just have the second round today.”

Mimi Tran complained there was a “lack of fervour” in 2012 compared to the previous presidential election in 2007, when second-round candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist rival Segolene Royal were both new.

In 2007 Royal won 40.81 percent of the vote in the 11th arrondissement compared to 25.80 percent for Nicolas Sarkozy. Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou came in third with 20 percent of the vote.

“There’s definitely been a lack of enthusiasm surrounding the campaign this time round,” Tran said. “Five years ago there was much more fervour.”

Despite the complaints, staff at the polling station reported a healthy turnout with numbers swelling in the late morning and lunch time.

Range of motives

Some voters turning up to vote in the bright sunshine were unhappy at the lack of strong personalities among the 10 candidates who are vying to reach the second round on May 6.

‘I’m disappointed,” Paul Simonnet told FRANCE 24. “There are no real personalities, no one has really convinced me that they deserve my vote today. The campaign has not really been that exciting but then the era we live in is not that exciting either.”

The election has been billed in some quarters as a referendum on France's unpopular president, Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than on the candidates’ actual programmes.

For voter Kamel Kermani, the opportunity to oust the incumbent president was the biggest incentive to vote.

“I am not satisfied with what he has done over the last five years,” Kermani told FRANCE 24.”I don’t like his mentality, which is anti-Muslim. He’s dishonest and full of empty proposals. We didn’t know him five years ago but now we do and I am voting today to get him out.”

Sarkozy and Hollande are widely expected to face off in the second round of voting on May 6.

But in Sunday’s first round French voters have the chance to pick from eight other candidates, including the far-right’s Marine Le Pen and her main challenger on the far-left, Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Looking ahead to run-off poll

Voter Eric Da Costa cast his ballot for Melenchon but admitted he was a little scared it might help Marine Le Pen sneak into the second round.

“You have to vote first for the person you really want,” he said. “I don’t think Melenchon will make the second round but it’s a risk you have to take. If the worst thing happens and Hollande misses the second round then Sarkozy is still better than Marine Le Pen.”

Da Costa regretted the lack of a stronger candidate from the Socialist Party, like the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

“It’s a shame Strauss-Kahn is not on the list of candidates today," he said, suggesting the private lives of candidates should stay out of the campaign. "He would have been good because he was strong and had some good ideas.”

Laeticia Pasquet, another Melenchon supporter, is confident her vote will not be wasted if he does not make it to the second round.

“It’s important Melenchon enjoys a strong showing because it can influence the Socialist Party,” she said. “I was always going to vote for him, unless Hollande got a poor showing in the opinion polls. I think all those who vote for Melenchon today will be switching their vote to Francois Hollande in the second round.”

Not all residents of the 11th district were thrilled by the chance to exercise their democratic right on Sunday.

One woman who did not want to be named turned around and headed home when she saw the queue outside the polling station.

“There’s no point voting anyway,” she told FRANCE 24. “Europe is in charge of France so whatever happens today is meaningless. Although I will feel a bit guilty if I don’t vote.”


Date created : 2012-04-22


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