The shock result which saw veteran far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen beat incumbent socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential election was described by Mr Jospin as "a political earthquake".
Mr Le Pen recorded 16.9% of the vote to enter a run-off with President Jacques Chirac. The result triggered a massive popular backlash on the streets of many cities. But analysts suggest that his tough views on crime and immigration have struck a chord with significant numbers of voters.
Mr Le Penís election showing represents a major turnaround in his political fortunes. Four years ago his National Front party was reeling from a damaging split, and appeared destined to shrink to irrelevance on the fringes of French politics.
Mr Le Pen founded the National Front in 1972 and built up almost fanatical support for his autocratic leadership. Its support stems mainly from the south and rural areas of the country.