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French prepare to go to polls

Jospin, left, and Chirac, right, are the front-runners
Jospin, left, and Chirac, right, are the front-runners  

PARIS, France -- French voters look set to abstain in record numbers in presidential elections on Sunday after a lacklustre campaign.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac are expected to top the first round polls on Sunday but neither is expected to win enough to prevent a run-off next month.

French electoral law prevents any further electioneering by candidates or predictions by pollsters until after Sunday's ballot, to allow a 24 hour gap in electioneering.

Observers say a dreary campaign by the two main parties at the end of five years of a shared administration has made a high turn-out unlikely.

Fringe parties among the record 16 candidates could play a key part in Sunday's election attracting protest votes.

If necessary, a run-off vote will be held on May 5, just ahead of parliamentary elections.

In-depth: France Decides 2002 

If Chirac and Jospin do go forward in a face-off it will be a repeat of the last presidential election in 1995.

Several issues are facing French voters, including employment, the economy, Europe and defence.

Both the conservative Chirac and the socialist Jospin have played the law and order card during the campaign.

Another feature has been the vitriolic personal attacks.

A truce called to bring dignity to the debate was broken by the 64-year-old Jospin last month when he told reporters Chirac, 69, was "tired," "old," and "used up."

Chirac has lambasted Jospin's "purely ideological" platform, saying it will lead to the decline of a divided France.


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