Paris, April 22 (IANS) Millions voted Sunday in the first round of presidential elections in France, a country bogged down by weak economy and high unemployment, issues that may spell trouble for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
As many as 44.3 million registered French voters will choose from among 10 candidates, including Sarkozy's main rival Socialist Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy cast his ballot in Paris along with his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy just before noon. He waved to the crowds and left without making any statement.
Hollande has emerged as a front-runner, and if Sarkozy loses, he will become the first president not to win a second term since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981, reported BBC.
Hollande, representing the biggest opposition Socialist Party (PS), cast his ballot in Tulle, central France, where he served as mayor from 2001 to 2008, reported Xinhua.
"I am attentive, engaged, and above all respectable. That's what the French vote for," Hollande told reporters, adding that the day was "an important moment".
Earlier in the day, Francois Bayrou, representing Democratic Movement (Modem), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the Left Front and Marine Le Pen, candidate representing the far right National Front (FN), also voted in their respective constituencies.
A latest IFOP survey released Friday showed Sarkozy running neck-and-neck with Hollande, with both projected to garner 27 percent of the vote.
Marine Le Pen, a candidate from the National Front, trailed behind with 16 percent of the vote, according to the survey.
According to French law, no exit poll or release of early results of the first round of the presidential election is allowed before all polling stations are closed.
Sarkozy is seeking a re-election and says he can preserve a "strong France".
But challenger Hollande says it is "the left's turn to govern".
There will be a run-off round May 6.
Sarkozy, who has been in office since 2007, promised during the campaign to reduce France's large budget deficit.
Hollande has vowed to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning more than 1 million euros a year.
If elected, he would be France's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who completed two seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995.
France is one of the most developed countries with the fifth largest economy in the world. In 2011, its GDP reached $2.808 trillion, with an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent.
France enjoys a leading position in sectors such as nuclear power, aerospace, and railway. According to the latest data, in 2010, France's export totalled $508.7 billion dollars, and its imports stood at $577.7 billion.
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