Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande
Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande fighting it out. Reuters

French voters head to the polling booths Sunday to vote in the first round of the presidential election amid ongoing eurozone crisis and rising levels of unemployment. Nine other candidates, including Socialist Francois Hollande, vie against incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy in the presidential race.

Polls in mainland France will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (0600 to 1600 GMT), and voting in bigger polling stations may be extended by two hours, even after the deadline if needed.

Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger Hollande had a bitter campaign trail, each trying to outdo the other, and yet failing to create any kind of enthusiasm among voters.

The final opinion polls showed that Hollande was narrowly ahead of conservative Sarkozy on Sunday's first round of voting. Polls also predict that he would win the May 6 runoff to become France's first Socialist president since 1995.

If Sarkozy loses the May 6 run-off, he will be the first French president to lose a second term in office since 1981. The last president to be voted out of office after completing his first term was the centre-right Valery Giscard d'Estaing, according to a report.

The first official results will be released after 8 p.m. Both candidates are expected to face each other in a run-off to be held on May 6.

French voters were cold to the election campaigns and not much voter turnout is expected in the polls. Many voters are also agitated over the apathy of the candidates toward the real issues faced by the country. Voters have expressed their displeasure over both leading candidates - Sarkozy for his extremly rightist and flamboyant lifestyle and behavior, and Hollande for his leftist agenda, which many citizens fear might further increase government spending.

Many citizens expressed frustration that mainstream candidates were not focused on the main challenges facing the eurozone's second largest economy, such as unemployment running at a 12-year high, Reuters reported.

The campaign has not been serious enough. The important issues have not been discussed. They've focused on childish arguments, throwing blame at each other, said Frederic Le Fevre, a self-employed businessman, to Reuters.

Voting began Saturday for French citizens living in other countries such as the Americas, the islands in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, where 882,000 French citizens enjoy full voting rights, reported.