French voters went to the polls on Sunday, for the first round of a US-style primary to choose a rightwing candidate for next year`s presidential election, with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-premier Alain Juppe under pressure after a contest overshadowed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
With the French left bitterly divided, whoever wins the rightwing candidacy is widely tipped to face and beat Le Pen in the decisive presidential run-off next May.
A last-minute surge in the opinion polls by Francois Fillon, who was prime minister under Sarkozy, indicate he is firmly in contention to grab one of the two spots for next Sunday`s runoff for the candidacy.
The latter stages of the campaign have focused on the possible boost to Le Pen`s presidential bid from Donald Trump`s shock victory in the United States.
Polls close at 1800 GMT, with the first indication of the outcome expected around 2130 GMT.
Some voter surveys at the end of campaigning put Fillon nearly level with Sarkozy and Juppe, the 71-year-old political veteran who had been the frontrunner for the past two months.
Juppe`s strategy of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the reform-minded Fillon appears to have backfired.
It is the first rightwing primary to be held in France, and anyone who pays two euros ($2.1) and signs a declaration that, they subscribe to "the values of the centre and the right" can take part.
An unknown factor is how many left-leaning supporters will take part because most are expected to seek to block Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after losing to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.
One such Socialist voter, a sports teacher in his fifties who identified himself only as Eric, said on Sunday, he taking part to vote "against Sarkozy".
"I`m fed up of that guy, he thinks he is all-powerful and he has been involved in too many scandals. Juppe, despite everything else, is the opposite," he told AFP, as he cast his vote in the Paris suburb of Pantin.
In a final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday, Sarkozy angrily ducked a question about fresh claims that, he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.
The case is one of several investigations to dog Sarkozy since he left office after what was dubbed a "bling-bling" presidency because of his flashy lifestyle.
Nicolas Meunier, a 40-year-old voter in Bordeaux, the southwest city where Juppe is mayor, said his natural politics were of the far-left, but he had come out to vote "to support democracy after what we`ve seen recently with Trump and Brexit".
He was supporting the only woman among the seven candidates, former environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.
Sarkozy, Juppe and Fillon have broadly similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following the jihadist attacks.
They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.
Ultimately, the choice will come down to style.
Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials saying, it makes him a better choice than the mild-mannered Juppe to safeguard France`s position in an uncertain world following Trump`s election.
Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised 'radical' economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.
The nomination of the right-wing candidate, on November 27, is expected to trigger an announcement from Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election despite the lowest popularity ratings of any post-war French president.
On Wednesday, Hollande`s former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, 38, announced that, he would stand as an independent, further confusing the picture on the left.