France election: Press consider uncertain result

Piles of the French daily newspaper Liberation after early results in the first round vote of the 2012 French presidential election
Image caption Mr Hollande is widely seen as the favourite to win the second round

French papers agree that the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande is better placed than Nicolas Sarkozy to be elected president on 6 May after he won the first round. But many believe the "breakthrough" of the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, has made the outcome less certain because it is unclear how her supporters will vote in the second round.

Some front pages are dominated by photos of Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy under headlines such as "The duel" (regional daily Le Republicain Lorrain) or "Head-on clash" (regional daily Midi Libre).

But other papers, such as Le Parisien, also prominently show a photo of Ms Le Pen, and many papers carry front-page headlines such as "Marine Le Pen's breakthrough revives second round" (centre-right Le Figaro), "Hollande on top, Le Pen spoilsport" (centre-left Liberation), "Hollande on top, Le Pen as arbiter" (regional daily Nice Matin) or simply "Surprise of Marine Le Pen" (regional daily La Nouvelle Republique).

"Close match"

An editorial by Etienne Mougeotte in Le Figaro says Mr Hollande's advantage is "not decisive" because of the lower-than-expected score of the hard left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon. According to the paper, the left still does not have majority backing in France and much will depend on whether those who voted for Ms Le Pen will back Mr Sarkozy to stop the Socialist candidate.

Le Parisien agrees that the second round will be "a close match". The paper explains that left-wing candidates totalled merely a good 43%, compared with over 47% for the right and 9% for the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, who thus maintains "a small position as an arbiter".

Michel Urvoy in the best-selling Ouest France believes that the second round "looks set to be more complicated than anticipated" since "the arbiters are not quite those we expected" and "more than a third of the electorate do not recognise themselves" in the two candidates who have gone through.

Remi Godeau in the regional daily, L'Est Republicain, argues that Mr Hollande holds "some trump cards" but says it is difficult to predict how those who supported radical candidates in the first round will vote in the second. "The result of 6 May lies in that protest vote, which is so volatile," the paper says.

"Clear victory"

Liberation's editorial by Nicolas Demorand, on the other hand, hails Mr Hollande's "clear victory", which shows "a deep desire for a change in policy and way of governing as well as the wish to see other values at the top of the state". Liberation regards the "worrying" result achieved by the far right as a sign that France "has not escaped the fate of other European countries", where "new-look" populism is on the rise.

Patrick Apel-Muller in the left-wing L'Humanite notes that Mr Sarkozy is the first outgoing president to have "suffered the snub" of not winning the first round of a French presidential election. According to the paper, "the entire left" now shares the goal of electing Mr Hollande.

Temptation of extremism

An editorial by Dominique Quinio in the Catholic daily La Croix notes that Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy will have to win over many who are "dissatisfied with the current political system, tired of the traditional changeover between right and left and ready for radical protest, for extremism". But the paper warns the rivals against radicalising their positions since "the new president will have to fight, act and take painful decisions on a programme common to all the French."

A commentary by Patrice Carmouze in the regional daily L'Eclair des Pyrenees says Ms Le Pen is "perhaps the real winner of the first round". The paper warns that "the far right has never been this powerful in France" and says political leaders must find answers to the "desperation" that lies behind this "vote of rejection".

Jean-Michel Bretonnier in La Voix du Nord says the surprise of the election is Marine Le Pen's National Front, and this "despite the fact that the outgoing president tried to woo the National Front vote and Jean-Luc Melenchon dreamed of tearing the working class vote away from Le Pen's siren calls". The paper concludes that the next president will have to adopt policies which "reconcile realism with hope".

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