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Rival now favourite to beat Sarkozy

Francois Hollande, a mild-mannered French Socialist, is favourite to beat incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy as the pair head into a presidential runoff election.

But the nearly one in five voters who chose far right candidate Marine Le Pen may hold the key to victory in the decisive vote on May 6.

Hollande remains favorite to win the run-off after besting Sarkozy in the first round.

If Hollande wins, his election could also alter Europe's political and economic landscape.

In the campaign's biggest surprise, nearly one in five voters chose far right candidate Marine Le Pen instead, handing her a solid third place and a chance to weigh in on French politics with her anti-immigration platform that targets France's millions of Muslims.

Mr Sarkozy said he recognised voters' concerns about jobs and immigration, and "the concern of our compatriots to preserve their way of life".