PARIS (Reuters) - France’s 46.03 million voters cast ballots on Sunday in a presidential election where all opinion polls point to a victory for Socialist Francois Hollande over conservative re-election contender Nicolas Sarkozy.
A parliamentary election follows on June 10 and 17.
Following are some facts about the electoral system:
The French directly elect their president and members of the National Assembly, the 577-seat lower house of parliament, every five years.
The system allows for two rounds of voting. A candidate is elected in round one if he or she obtains a simple majority of upwards of 50 percent of the vote, short of which there is a second round where the highest scorer wins.
In the presidential election, a maximum of two candidates face off in the second round.
In the parliamentary election, any candidate whose score is 12.5 percent upwards of the number of registered voters in the constituency goes to the second round.
French citizens aged 18 years and older may vote at a total of 65,000 polling stations in France and abroad.
There are 46.03 million registered voters, according to the interior ministry, which updated its figures after round one of this year’s presidential election.
Campaigning must stop at midnight (6 p.m. EDT) on Friday, May 4, ahead of the May 6 vote.
Polling stations in mainland France open at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) on May 6 and close at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) or 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) in some cities including Paris.
Reliable projections of the result based on a partial count will be published as soon as the last polling station closes at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).
In the French Antilles, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, French Guyana, French Polynesia and polling stations in continental America, voting takes place on May 5, with results held until the following day.
Some 1.08 million citizens are registered to vote at 780 polling stations outside French territory. Switzerland has the highest number of foreign voting stations, at 82, followed by the United States with 67.
Candidates in round one and their official percentage score were:
Francois Hollande (28.63, Socialist Party, centre-left)
Nicolas Sarkozy (27.18, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), conservative)
Marine Le Pen (17.9, National Front, far-right)
Jean-Luc Melenchon (11.1, Left Front, Communist-backed)
Francois Bayrou (9.13, Democratic Movement, centre)
Eva Joly (2.31, Europe Ecology-The Greens, ecologist)
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (1.79, Stand Up for the Republic, Eurosceptical right)
Phillipe Poutou (1.15, New Anti-Capitalist Party, Trotskyist)
Nathalie Arthaud (0.56, Workers’ Struggle, Trotskyist)
Jacques Cheminade (0.25, Solidarity and Progress, other)
The president’s five-year term expires officially at midnight on May 15.
If a new president is elected, the date of the inauguration ceremony is traditionally set by agreement between the two and could come before the official end of Sarkozy’s mandate if there are pressing international obligations, such as a planned Group of Eight summit on May 18-19.
The inauguration would be preceded by a handover ceremony in which the outgoing head of state has a private meeting to pass on the secret codes to France’s nuclear arsenal.
The new president will name an ‘interim’ prime minister and cabinet to handle government business until a new parliament is elected in June.
A new government may then be chosen depending on the composition of parliament. Historically, legislative elections have tended to go the same way as presidential ballots when they are held at the same time.
The dates for the 14th National Assembly election since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958 are June 10 and 17.
The current National Assembly’s term officially expires and the newly elected Assembly’s mandate begins June 19 at midnight.
The vote concerns all 577 seats of the National Assembly. Of those, 555 are mainland France constituencies and the other 22 are for overseas territories.
Any candidate who obtains an absolute majority of votes cast is elected outright.
Where there is no round one winner, candidates with 12.5 percent of registered voters are entitled to enter the second round, where the highest scorer wins.
Most of the 577 contests are usually two-way races, with a number between three candidates, and a handful of four-way runoffs.
In the last election in 2007, the oldest winner of a seat was 78 (born in 1929) and the youngest 28 (born in 1978) The average age was 55, according to National Assembly data.
This is France’s ninth presidential election in the Fifth Republic, dating back to 1958.
1958 - General Charles de Gaulle is elected indirectly by a reduced franchise of 80,000 elected officials.
1965 - In the first presidential election held by universal suffrage, De Gaulle is re-elected on the second round against Socialist Francois Mitterrand.
1969 - After De Gaulle resigns from office, conservative Gaullist George Pompidou defeats centrist Alain Poher.
1974 - Pompidou dies in office, the only president of the Fifth Republic to do so. Centre-right Valery Giscard d‘Estaing wins the closest election in France’s modern history 50.81 percent to Mitterrand’s 49.19 percent.
1981 - Amid a split between Giscard d‘Estaing and his former prime minister, Jacques Chirac, Mitterrand defeats Giscard d‘Estaing to win the presidency leading a Union of the Left to power including Communist ministers.
1988 - Mitterrand comfortably defeats the conservative Chirac, who had been prime minister since 1986.
1995 - After defeating his right-wing rival, Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, in the first round, Chirac beats Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the second round to win power.
2002 - Jospin, prime minister since 1997, is eliminated in the first round and Chirac comfortably wins a second-round runoff against far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. He serves only five years in office after the presidential term was shortened from seven years by a referendum in 2000.
2007 - Chirac’s former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, courting the votes of the far-right, comfortably beats Socialist candidate Segolene Royal.