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By Albert Thompson

WASHINGTON – French voters supported incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Party candidate François Hollande in the first round of presidential elections held on Sunday.

Sarkozy, of the Gaullist Party Union for a Popular Movement, received 27 percent of the vote while Monsieur Hollande received 28 percent. Both candidates will go head-to-head in a runoff election scheduled for May 6.

The presidential race has become a referendum on the incumbent, Sarkozy. Elected in 2007, Sarkozy has provoked both awe and loathing during his presidency.

He is credited with making the failure to assimilate France’s predominately Muslim minorities a topic of open discussion while presenting France as a foreign policy and military leader during the NATO led attack on Libya that removed Moammar Gadhahi from power.

Sarkozy has come under fire from the French left for his attempts at reform, and has been accused of pandering for votes in his confrontation with Islamism in French society.

The Socialist Party candidate M. Hollande, however, is known for his desire to raise the top income tax rate in France to 75 percent, a stance that has worried investors and financial analysts as Europe continues to suffer economic difficulties.

The next French leader will face serious difficulties over the next five-year presidential term. France suffers from chronic unemployment, while the future of the Euro and the European Union remains in doubt.

France also confronts a demographic dilemma as its European Metropolitan-French birthrate fails to match that of its Muslim and immigrant communities.

In many areas Muslim have established no-go areas where French police forces have little authority. Muslim activists are believed to support the Socialist Party candidate Hollande in an effort to halt attempts by the French right to confront Islamism in France.

Ironically, both candidates will now increase their efforts to court the 18 percent of French voters who support the far right National Front party candidate Marine Le Pen. Le Pen had taken the toughest stance against radical Islam, terrorism, and multiculturalism in France.

Among younger French voters, her National Front party is increasing in popularity. To win the runoff both Sarkozy and Hollande will need to reach voters on the right and the center who supported other candidates.

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