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Sunday, 21 April, 2002, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
French snub presidential vote
Voters trickled into many of the polling stations
Voters trickled into many of the polling stations
Voters have stayed away in droves from polling stations in the first round of the French presidential election, as voting draws to a close after a campaign marked by widespread apathy.

There is a total lack of motivation this year because the main candidates are promising things they never delivered

Voter Patrick Galonzka
Just hours before the polling stations were due to close, officials said almost 60% of the electorate had cast their vote - down by 5% compared with the election in 1995.

The ballot is expected to send front-runners President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin forward to a second round run-off in two weeks' time.

But polls suggest they could garner less than 40% of the vote between them, after a lacklustre campaign.

Launch new window : Voters' voices
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Fringe parties making up the record field of 16 candidates, from far-left to far-right, are expected to do better than usual.

French elections
  • Main candidates: Jacques Chirac, Lionel Jospin, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Arlette Laguiller, Jean-Perre Chevenement
  • First round: 21 April, second round run-off between two leading candidates: 5 May
  • Issues: crime, corruption, pensions, 35-hour week, employment, social security
  • Polls open 0600 GMT and close at 1800 GMT
  • First results: Exit polls to be announced as voting comes to an end, first results by midnight

      Click here to read opinions from around France

  • In Paris, glorious spring sunshine brought people out onto the streets to enjoy the markets and cafes, but there were no queues at the polling stations.

    One senior polling official blamed the slow start on the weather.

    "A lot of people are going to see the sun and go out to spend a day in the country," he said.

    But those who did turn out had different theories for the lack of voters.

    "I certainly have been disappointed by the debate," said Elise Traissac, a 28-year executive in a business services company, who voted for the centrist Francois Bayrou.

    She said the problem with President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin was that they had presented broadly similar programmes and had failed to convince people of their record in power.


    Voters have trickled in to the polling booths in many areas
    Voters have trickled in to the polling booths in many areas
    Voter apathy was also a problem in Donzy, the quiet town in the Loire Valley which has mirrored the score for France as a whole in previous elections.

    "There is a total lack of motivation this year because the main candidates are promising things they never delivered," said voter, Patrick Galonzka, a security officer in the town.

    He said he would vote for the Trotskyist Arlette Laguiller.

    "There are fewer people voting this year, that's for sure," said one election worker at the town hall.

    "But I think that in the first round most people will express their dissatisfaction with the status quo by voting for outsiders."

    Voters in booths, in a Paris school
    Voters will be back soon for round two, and then for the parliamentary poll

    With little to separate their programmes, much attention will focus on the personalities of the two men who have shared power in France since 1997.

    A grey-suited Mr Jospin cast his ballot in the south-western town of Cintegabelle, where he also sits on the regional council.

    Mr Chirac voted at a polling station in Sarran, central France, clutching a small bouquet of lily of the valley.

    The incumbent president has a slender lead, according to opinion polls.

    Non-voters in first round
    1974: 16%
    1981: 19%
    1988: 19%
    1995: 22%

    The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris says the most likely beneficiary of voter apathy is the veteran National Front Leader, Mr le Pen, who has been closing the gap with Mr Jospin, in second place, in recent days.

    One voter in Donzy said he was going to vote for Mr Le Pen because of his programme for crime.

    "Things need to change, and Le Pen means more security and the death penalty for murderers. The countryside is no longer safe, and I'm not a racist, but if you ask me, it's because there are too many immigrants," the man said.

    Official results are not expected until Monday morning.

    While attention may focus now on the presidential vote, the amount of power the eventual winner comes to wield depends on the outcome of legislative elections.

    If the winning presidential candidate's party also wins the parliamentary election, the power of the president will increase at the expense of the prime minister.

    The BBC's Jon Sopel
    "People feel disillusioned"
    The BBC's Janet Barrie
    "The real winner here will be apathy"
    See also:

    19 Mar 02 | Europe
    French candidates go web-crazy
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