Francois Hollande has secured 28 per cent of the votes cast in the first round of the presidential elections, with 79 per cent of the ballots counted. Nicholas Sarkozy is trailing his Socialist rival with 26.9 per cent of the vote.
Far-right candidate Marine le Pen has secured third place with 19 per cent of the vote, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry.
Left-wing hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon has got about 10 per cent of the ballots. The other six candidates delivered modest single-digit results.
After the preliminary results were announced, Hollande delivered a speech to a crowd of his cheering supporters in his hometown of Tulle. He said he has become a candidate of all the French people who want to turn “a new page” in the history of France. He also pledged to reduce country’s debt, boost economic growth, and unite the people of France after the “divisive” rule of Nicholas Sarkozy.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy's supporters absorbed the defeat, with the leader of the right-wing UMP, Jean-Francois Cope, saying that in the next round, when Nicolas Sarkozy we will be one-to-one against Francois Hollande, “the match will be different.”
The turnout in the ballot has exceeded 80 per cent, despite fears that up to one third of the electorate might ignore the vote. For comparison, the first round of the 2007 French presidential election saw a record high turnout of 83.8 per cent.
So far, half of the votes have been counted. Preliminary results correspond to the results of the pre-election surveys, which suggested Hollande would win by a small margin.
Hollande and Sarkozy are due to meet head-to-head in the run-off set for May 6.
According to the polls, Hollande is projected to win in the second round. But the run-off may bring some surprises with so many votes secured by the candidates who trailed behind in the first round.
Millions of French have cast their votes at the polling stations to determine the future of France for the next five years, with the candidates themselves casting their votes during the first hours of the election on Sunday. Francois Hollande, said this election will “weigh on the future of Europe,” as he cast his vote.