French president and UMP party candidate for the 2012 presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy is cheered by supporters as he leaves the stage after delivering a speech during a campaign rally in Saint Maurice, a Paris suburb.

Paris - Voting in the first round of France's presidential election got underway Sunday, with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy hoping to disprove polls showing him being denied a second term in office.

Around 85,000 polling stations across the country opened at 8am (0600 GMT). Some 44.5 million people are registered to vote over the coming 12 hours.

The first exit polls will be published after polls close, at 8pm (1800 GMT).

Around 800,000 voters in French overseas territories voted already on Saturday because of the time difference with Paris.

Ten candidates, ranging from the far left to the far right, are competing for the presidency but none is expected to win an absolute majority in the first round. A second round between the top two candidates will be held on May 6.

Latest available polls showed Socialist candidate Francois Hollande easily beating Sarkozy in a second round. If confirmed, it would make Sarkozy only the first president since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981 not to win a second term.

Both leading candidates are looking to maximise their score in the first round.

Hollande was being credited with a support of between 27.5 and 30 percent in the first round, compared with 25-27 percent for Sarkozy, 14-17 per cent for far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and 12-14.5 per cent for radical Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The outcome of the first round could hinge on turnout. Around 25 percent of voters had said they were considering not voting after a lacklustre campaign in which the mainstream candidates were accused of failing to address a jobs crisis and the growing influence of financial markets. - Sapa-dpa