PARIS, France - France might be facing some of the toughest economic challenges in decades, but many voters are unconvinced that any of the candidates running for the presidency are capable of rescuing the country from the current crisis.
Voting is not compulsory in France, and an opinion poll published by Ifop for the Journal de Dimanche weekly newspaper on Sunday predicted 32 per cent of the population would abstain from voting this coming weekend.
This is particularly high, even compared to the 2002 presidential election, which saw a 28 per cent abstention rate in the first round.
The rate of non-participation plummeted to 16 per cent in 2007, an election that pitted the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy against the Socialist Party’s Segolene Royale. Both candidates then had broken the mould of what their respective parties traditionally represented.
There are few such surprises in this year’s selection of candidates, in an election predicted to lead to a runoff between Sarkozy, the sitting president, and Francois Hollande, the long-time leader of the Socialist Party.
|Spotlight coverage of France's 2012 presidential elections
A group of Popular Movement (UMP) activists, braving the bitter wind to hand out pamphlets for Sarkozy’s re-election bid, agreed that the 2012 campaign has failed to engage the French public.
One of them, Veronique Baldini, said she anticipated a high rate of absenteeism in both rounds of voting, on April 22 and May 6.
"I don’t know why so many people are saying they will abstain," said Baldini, who is the deputy mayor of the 16th district of Paris. "Maybe it’s because the campaign on the television hasn’t been particularly exciting."
It had lacked the rigorous and rousing debates that marked French campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, she said, and the candidates avoided saying anything too contentious.
Baldini said the 2007 presidential elections had been more exciting because Sarkozy had a much more compelling opponent in Royale.
"Royale was a much less conventional candidate, but Hollande is very controlled and avoids anything controversial," the UMP official said.
|Milaret Katja says she sees no point in voting in either round of elections [Al Jazeera/Yasmine Ryan]
She acknowledged that all of the candidates were guilty of neglecting the very issues that mattered most to many French people.
"It’s true that they have talked enough about the crisis, about unemployment, which seems to be a fundamental issue for many French people," she said.
With just days left for the first round of the election, the cover of the left-wing Marianne magazine voiced the scepticism so many are feeling about the candidates.
"The biggest lies of the campaign," it read, illustrated with images of the leading candidates all holding their hands over their hearts, their mouths open as they woo potential voters.
Milaret Katja, a young woman living in the 16th district, said she would not be voting because she did not believe it would make any difference which candidate wins.
Neither Hollande or Sarkozy, nor any of the other candidates, offered a palatable alternative in her view.
"I think it’s become too much about the personalities and not enough about the policies," she said, arguing French presidential campaigns have become increasingly superficial.
"These American-style campaigns have no substance. It's bullshit."
David Zoher, who recently turned 18 and will be voting for the first time, said he would be doing so without much enthusiasm for the candidates.
"I'm going to vote because it's my duty as a citizen, but none of the candidates really excited me," he said.
He does not support Sarkozy’s policies, because he thinks they have favoured the wealthy at the expense of the majority of the population.
He is deciding between Hollande and Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left candidate, but harbours no high expectations of either bringing about real change..
"I don’t think changing the president in France will change much," he said. "It won’t overcome the crisis."