PARIS, April 23 (Xinhua) -- With incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and the leftist Socialist candidate Francois Hollande heading to a run-off vote, the preliminary results of the first round of the French presidential election suggested that it would be a tight race.
For a long time, the leftists, who advocate social justice and higher social welfare, and the rightists, who are in favor of promoting the general livelihood on the basis of an enhanced national economic competitiveness, have been evenly matched on the French political landscape. And this time, history appears to be repeating itself.
Sarkozy's political style, his broken campaign promises, an economy hard hit by the global financial storm and the European debt crisis - all these reasons may compel voters to support his opponent.
By attacking Sarkozy's records, Hollande has finally united the long-broken leftist wing and appeared before the public as a strong advocate for change.
However, though Sarkozy failed to emerge as the winner in the first round, his less-than-two-percentage-point ballot margin with Hollande indicates that the game is far from over.
While addressing a campaign rally in the southwestern city of Tulle, Hollande said he is the "candidate to get the French people together for a change."
He also said he would work hard to grow the economy more rapidly, create more job opportunities, and restore the French people's confidence in political policies and public morals.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy told his supporters in Paris that he understood the voters' concerns, and called for three face-to-face debates with Hollande on economic and social affairs, business development, as well as international issues.
RISE OF EXTREMISTS
If there is one difference between this election and the previous ones, it is the rise of extremists from both sides of the political spectrum.
Front National's (FN) Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, came in third with about 19.1 percent of the votes in the first round, while the candidate of the Left Front party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, got some 10.84 percent -- a historic breakthrough.
Analysts believed that with a gloomy economic outlook, rising jobless rates, declining living standards, shrinking global competitiveness, a runaway immigration policy and security threats, it is only natural for the public to seek alternative candidates in these political extremists.
Melenchon is bluntly critical of the polarization between rich and poor, and wants to raise workers' payment and tax the rich to cover the country's deficit.
As for Le Pen, she believed all problems the French society is now facing originated in the European Union. She said France should withdraw from the eurozone, and banish the Schengen Treaty so as to strictly control the influx of immigrants.
WHO WILL WIN?
Analysts said the supporters of those disqualified from the first round matter a great deal in the upcoming run-off contest between Sarkozy and Hollande.
Currently, with four leftist candidates openly endorsing Hollande, Sarkozy might be defeated by eight percentage points.
However, two weeks ahead of the second round contest, Sarkozy still has a chance to turn the tide in his favor by consolidating the support of the right wing and winning over the far-right voters.
Also, in his latest speech, he has begun to focus on topics that could well secure him the support of the far right. At the same time, Hollande will have a difficult time to keep his lead.
Yet observers agreed that though the leftists and rightists differ fundamentally in governance policies, the winner of the race will have to cut the deficits and public debt, promote economic growth, and expand employment.
French economist Nicolas Baverez said France is very likely to become the next victim of the European debt crisis, and the next French president's major task is to change the pattern of economic growth by relying on loans.