France's incumbent President and right-wing ruling party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) candidate for the French 2012 presidential election Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy are seen in a car, on April 22, in Paris, following the announcement of the estimated results of the first round of the elections
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
LONDON: Monday papers said only a miracle would keep Nicolas Sarkozy as French president but the far-right's "stunning" gains in Sunday's vote had tarnished leftist Francois Hollande's likely win.
Times ran with "Sarkozy faces defeat" as its front-page headline, spelling out the harsh reality for the incumbent leader after early results suggested he had polled only between 25.5 to 27 percent of the vote.
Hollande led the pack with between 28 and 29 percent of the first-round vote, but far-right candidate Marine Le Pen could now decide the May 6 run-off after her National Front party polled a record 18 to 20 percent.
The Guardian said Hollande was riding the "crest of a leftwing wave", but that Le Pen's "stunning" figures had dampened enthusiasm.
"The left's confidence that the presidency was, after 17 long years, finally within its grasp was tempered by the stunning success of Marine Le Pen," said the paper's editorial, under the headline "bittersweet victory for the left".
The paper said Sarkozy "needed a miracle" in the second round to keep his job as results proved that France "had had enough of its president".
"It was also about social justice, accountability for the banking crisis and the wish to see an alternative to a decade of austerity," it added.
Britain's centre-right press has expressed concern over the possibility of a Hollande victory after he declared war on the finance industry, which generates huge revenues for Britain.
One of those papers, The Daily Telegraph, also focused on the far-right gains, splashing the front-page headline "One in five vote for Le Pen as Sarkozy is beaten into second place", next to a picture of the National Front leader.
Telegraph reporter Henry Samuel reflected his paper's scepticism of Hollande, calling him "a drab Socialist who declared finance his true enemy".
The Times, which on Sunday backed Sarkozy, has also expressed concern over Hollande's manifesto, accusing him of engaging in "fantasy economics" which "would dim Europe's prospects of economic recovery and diminish its diplomatic weight".
Monday's editorial focused on the consequences for the eurozone should the Sarkozy/Angela Merkel, or "Merkozy", relationship be broken by a Hollande win.
"The future of Merkozy, the Hydra at the helm of European politics, could scarcely be in more doubt," it said.
The broadsheet predicted Hollande would "show greater prudence than his campaigning has suggested", but stressed the relationship between France and Germany would need to be rebuilt.
Hollande has vowed to renegotiate the fiscal compact which emerged at the beginning of this year and the paper warned of potential conflict on the horizon between the austerity-driven Merkel and the free-spending Hollande.
The Daily Mail carried a picture of first lady Carla Bruni on its front page above the word "humiliated", although it said her husband could remain in the Elysee depending on where the far-right vote moves.