As the afternoon votes in the French Presidential election are counted, it seems that it will be extremely likely that Presidential incumbent Nicolas Sarzoky will face off against socialist contender Francois Hollande in the second round on May 6th.
In the French constitution, unless any contender has a clear 50% of the votes in the first round, a second round is required when the two main contenders are pitted against each other for the spoils. With those contenders rumoured to be virtually level-pegging, the significant factor could be far-right contender Marine Le Pen's monstrous 20% share of the first round vote.
It is amazing to think that less than a century after France was humbled by the war machine of Nationalist Germany during WWII, one in five French people can be found voting for a nationalist French party linked to fascists and extremists. Having said that, at least the French contenders cover the entire political spectrum, giving voters a far better range of choices than that offered to us here in the UK.
Far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon has already come out in support of Mr Hollande, who favours a 75% rate of tax for high earners as one of his major planned policies should he win on May 6th. In order to avoid becoming the first single-term president since the early 1980s, Sarzoky will now have to convince Le Pen's far-right voters that he is the man to tackle major issues such as national debt and immigration. In doing so, he must be careful that he does not alienate his central-right supporters by adopting a racist anti-Muslim stance.
As in England with it's narrow, incestuous three-party politics, it is the small number of those in the middle of the voting spectrum which may have the decisive say. The final reckoning in the election may be decided by the 6 - 8% of people who voted for centrist candidate Francois Bayrou. The future of politics in Europe could decide whether those small number of potential swing voters land on the left or the right side of the fence.
France has the fifth biggest economy in the world and is one of Europe's two remaining economic powerhouses. The outcome of this election will be felt worldwide, not just within the Gallic borders. It's most pertinent for the United Kingdom that while we have opted for a conservative stance that sees us heading into double-dip recession, favouring lower taxes for the rich and reduced opportunities for everyone else, France may provide us with a comparitive position that would allow us to learn from our mistakes.
Whether our position improves or not, Hollande is a key step closer to ending the toxic austerity program in the heart of Europe and perhaps offering hope of an alternative to progressives everywhere.