Sarkozy careened into the first round of voting, which began Saturday, by vowing to change rules that give all presidential candidates equal air time.
"I have been in a battle, where for the past four weeks it has been me alone against nine other candidates," Sarkozy told Le Figaro. "It will be the last election with these rules because all this leads to is a caricature of our democracy. The rules reflect equality but not the reality."
The Financial Times said the situation pitted Sarkozy against not only his main competitors but also a cadre of fringe candidates.
Philippe Marliere, a professor of French politics at University College London, told the Times Sarkozy's complaints sounded hollow given the constant media coverage he has had while in office. "It really smacks of desperation," he said. "It's a sign of someone who knows he is on course to lose."
Radio France International said voting began Saturday in France's far-flung territories with polls in France proper opening Sunday.
French media was warned by government prosecutors this week not to violate the ban on exit polls and predictions, France 24 reported.