Socialist Francois Hollande has won the first round of the French presidential poll, setting up a run-off with Nicolas Sarkozy who came second, according to an exit-poll.
With around 33% of the first-round vote counted, Nicolas Sarkozy, the current incumbent, was said to have polled 26.6% of the vote with his main challenger Hollande taking 27.5%.
In a surprise result Marine Le Pen, the anti-Muslism, anti-immigrant candidate was in a strong third place with 19.9 percent of the vote so far.
Marine Le Pen, said in an interview with the Associated Press last week that she would consider it a victory if she matched her father's first-round result in 2002.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front founder, polled 16.8 per cent of the vote that year and faced a second-round run-off against then-President Jacques Chirac.
In fourth place today was leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou and five other candidates with minimal support.
The run-off between the top two vote-getters is set for May 6.
The Interior Ministry said early turnout figures showed 70.6 per cent of the 44-million-plus voters cast ballots before 5pm (1500GMT) — this is lower than the 73.8 percent in 2007 at the same time, but more than in the four previous elections