French voters are faced with a clear choice between liberal and conservative political parties, after Sunday's first-round presidential election. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal made it through to the run-off vote on May 6.

Both Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal represent a new generation of politicians for France. They are both in their 50s, and both say they want to modernize the country. But that is where the similarities end.

Sarkozy is a tough-talking Interior Minister who wants to cut taxes and relax labour laws to boost a sluggish economy. Royal says she would increase government spending and preserve generous benefits for workers.

Each received strong endorsements. Sarkozy got about 31 percent of the vote, and Royal about 26 percent. Voter turnout was unusually high. The Interior Ministry said nearly 85 percent of people who had registered to vote cast ballots - just short of the record set in 1965.

Voters in Paris were in a upbeat mood, and said the high turnout showed how important this election was to them.

Student Francois Xavier was at the Montparnasse train station, heading back to his home in Strasbourg.

"I do not know if the results from yesterday are significant," he said. "What we can say is there were more than 80 percent of voting people and that is the most important part because everyone has the same opinion that France may need to change and we hope that Sarkozy or whoever it can be will change the next France."

Sarkozy is in a strong position heading into the second round, but observers say both candidates have a tough battle ahead of them.

They will be trying to win the support of voters who abandoned them in favor of centrist Francois Bayrou. He won 18 percent of the vote. It is believed that most of his supporters are more conservative than they are Socialist, but just before the election Bayrou suggested an alliance with Royal.

Both Sarkozy and Royal have rallies planned for tonight. They will face each other in a televised debate on May 2, four days before the election.