PARIS — France holds a presidential runoff election nationwide Sunday. Here is how it works and what’s at stake.
WHAT IS HAPPENING: French citizens are choosing a president in direct elections. France held the first round of voting April 22, and the two top candidates advanced to the second and final round Sunday. Just over 43 million people are eligible to vote.
WHEN AND WHERE: Polling stations in municipal buildings around the country will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (0600-1600GMT; 2 a.m.-12 p.m. EDT) In Paris and other large urban areas polls remain open until 8 p.m. (1800 GMT; 2 p.m. EDT). Voters in some French overseas territories started voting Saturday. Partial official results are expected Sunday night, after the last polls close.
WHO IS RUNNING: Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy is running against Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, after eight other candidates were eliminated in the first round. Hollande has led Sarkozy in every poll conducted throughout the campaign.
WHAT’S NEXT: The new head of state will take office no later than May 16 and serve a fixed five-year mandate.
ISSUES: Jobs are the primary concern of the French, with unemployment near 10 percent. The stagnant economy is a big issue, along with immigration and integrating Muslims.
WHY IT MATTERS ELSEWHERE: The choice that French people make will affect France and the European Union and its attempts to manage the eurozone debt crisis. France is also a permanent U.N. Security Council member and nuclear power and has troops on missions abroad, from Afghanistan to Congo.