Update Sunday night: As polls close at 8 p.m. it appears that Nicolas Sarkozy and Segelene Royal will go through to the second round of voting. Sarkozy is projected to have 30 percent of the vote; Royal follows with 25.2 percent. Both candidates will seek votes of Francois Bayrou's supporters in the second round on May 6. Eighty-five percent of French voters turned out to cast their ballots Sunday, the highest turnout since General Charles de Gaulle ran for re-election in 1965.
French voters go to the polls Sunday in the first round of voting for a new president. Center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segelene Royal are expected to make it through to the second round.
But the "third man," centrist candidate Francois Bayrou could throw a spanner into the works. If Sarkozy and Royal make it through the first round, Bayrou will be courted to throw his support - and that of his followers - behind one leading contender.
French media reports that a day before the election, approximately 16 million voters remain undecided. More than one million newly-registered voters are expected to cast their vote. The second round of voting is May 6.
Many voters will make their choice based on deep-rooted suspicion of immigrants. Far-right candidate Jean-Marie LePen has called for a complete ban on immigration to France, while Sarkozy has courted some of LePen's supporters by vowing to establish a Department of Immigration. Sarkozy - himself the son of a Hungarian-born immigrant - is already unpopular with certain segments of the population after taking a hard line against young immigrant rioters in the banlieues protesting the lack of job opportunities and adequate housing. Both Royal and Bayrou are widely considered to be more accepting of immigrants' rights.
Last Sunday I was at the Marche aux Puces at Porte de Clignacourt with a friend visiting from the United States. While standing in line at the one ATM/cash machine within all of Clignacourt, the proprietor of a shop next to the ATM apparently became concerned about the length of the line and the "rabble" standing outside her doorway. She had her assistant erect a large ladder (pictured above) in front of her doorway to keep people away from the glass walls of her shop.
The "rabble" to whom she referred consisted of people from all nationalities, politely waiting their turn. No one was talking loudly or playing music; still the woman came out of her store, muttering about "immigrants taking over." A well-dressed African woman accompanied by her two well-behaved children turned and shouted at the woman, saying that she was just as French as she was. "It's racists like you, who are ruining La France!" she exclaimed, to polite applause of the people waiting in line.