The official campaign for France's presidential election opened Monday, two weeks ahead of the first round of voting, with Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal the frontrunners in the polls.
The vote, one of the most exciting and important ballots in recent French history, is expected to mark the transition to a new generation of leaders and define the country's response to the key issues of globalisation and national identity.
Royal, a Socialist who portrays herself as a nurturing figure, and Sarkozy, a tough-on-crime rightwinger who is striving to prove he has a softer side, continue to lead the race by several points in the opinion polls.
Some 59 percent of French voters expect Sarkozy, the former interior minister and candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement, to win, according to a CSA poll published in Le Parisien Monday.
Eighteen percent expect a victory for Royal, who has trailed several points behind Sarkozy in almost every opinion survey since January.
But polls also show that the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou and the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen are still very much in the running. In theory any two of the four could make it into the final round of voting on May 6.
On Monday all 12 contenders entered the final straight, with official rules coming into effect for campaign broadcasts and postering at France's 85,000 polling booths. A hectic nationwide series of public rallies and stump meetings now kicks in up to the first vote on April 22.
An army of poster stickers started deploying across the country at midnight, to paste up the 12 candidates' posters -- one million in total.
Early Monday morning, French public radio and television stations aired the first of a series of official campaign spots -- that of anti-globalisation campaigner Jose Bove, currently credited with around one percent of the vote.
With some 42 percent of voters still undecided, according to a CSA poll published in Le Parisien, the coming days offer candidates a crucial chance to spell out their campaign message and rally last-minute waverers.
But some commentators have warned the strict rules for broadcast media -- with the smallest fringe candidate guaranteed the same airtime as the frontrunners -- actually risk clouding the debate.
Until April 20, broadcasters are legally obliged to spread coverage of each candidate equally around the clock, strictly dividing interview time and reports on their campaigns.
In an editorial, Liberation warned the rules were based on "a neutrality that is as hypocritical as it is fictitious" and had "no chance of clearing the record levels of indecision that is the hallmark of this 2007 election".
"The 12 candidates will have the same space to develop their ideas, when only three of them -- Sarkozy, Royal and Bayrou -- have any chance of applying them as president."
France is choosing a successor to Jacques Chirac, 74, the veteran leader who has been in office since 1995. French voters will also be asked to choose members of parliament in legislative elections set for June.
Also standing for the presidential vote are three Trotskyite candidates, a Communist and a Green.
The last two runners are a hunters' party candidate who champions rural interests and the Catholic nationalist Philippe de Villiers.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16