Results from France's presidential election on April 22 show Socialist candidate Francois Hollande and conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy will advance to a runoff vote on May 6.
Hollande received 28.63 percent of the vote compared to 27.08 percent for Sarkozy. A candidate needs 50 percent of the vote to win the first round outright.
Hollande's win in the first round marks the first time an incumbent has failed to win the first round of a presidential election since the French Fifth Republic was founded under a constitution that was introduced in 1958.
Meanwhile, far right candidate Marine Le Pen came in third place with 18.01 percent of the vote -- a record for the National Front party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and veteran centrist Francois Bayrou came in fourth and fifth place, respectively, out of the 10 first-round candidates.
Some European Union officials have voiced concern about the National Front's strong showing.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Le Pen's score was "alarming."
Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Sarkozy was partly to blame for Le Pen's success after he campaigned for tighter immigration controls and reform of the EU's Schengen visa-free travel area.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt warned against attitudes "against open societies and an open Europe."
Turnout Tops 80 Percent
Voting was brisk, with turnout reportedly topping 80 percent of eligible voters. That turnout allayed concerns about voter apathy in a campaign season that was criticized as failing to address key issues like unemployment.
The vote was seen as a test for Sarkozy, who has defended his performance in office despite sagging economic indicators.
A second-round loss by Sarkozy would make him the first French president in more than 30 years to fail to win a second term in office. It would also make Hollande the first Socialist president in France since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.
Sarkozy cast his vote in an affluent Paris suburb, accompanied by his wife, Carla Bruni. Sarkozy shook hands with bystanders but made no public remarks.
A combo photo shows President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) and Francoise Hollande voting on April 22.
Later, when speaking to supporters, Sarkozy highlighted his experience in protecting France's people.
"[The election] is about choosing the one who will be responsible for our country and who will have to protect the French people for the next five years [and] for five years I have exercised that function," he said. "And believe me, I am up to the task and I know the duties of the job."
Speaking to his supporters after preliminary results already showed he had won the first round, Hollande said the second round would be "punishment" for Sarkozy and his policies.
"The second major fact coming from this ballot -- and it is without a doubt -- is that the second round represents a punishment for the term that's ending and a rejection of the outgoing candidate whose speeches over the last months played to the far right," Hollande said.
Le Pen cast her vote in the former coal-mining town of Henin-Beaumont. In her remarks to supporters after polls closed, Le Pen called the election a victory for her party.
"France's fight is just beginning," she said. "Dear friends, French people, nothing will never be the same because against the whole system, facing lies and false polls, together we all blew apart the monopoly of the two parties of the banks, of finance."
Also voting was former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been widely expected to run for president before his political hopes were dashed following a series of high-profile criminal sex allegations.
Strauss-Kahn cast his vote in the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, where he formerly served as mayor.
Despite the high-stakes rivalry, many French voters have complained of a lackluster campaign season and a dearth of strong political platforms.
The vote included the ballots of approximately 800,000 French citizens who live outside of France.
France has scheduled elections in June for its National Assembly, which currently is controlled by Sarkozy's conservatives.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa