Emmanuel Macron won the first round, with Marine Le Pen in second place.
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France is set to hold its first round of presidential elections April 23. If, as polls suggest, no candidate wins an outright majority, the top two candidates move on to a second round of voting on May 7.
Although eligible to stand for a second term, incumbent Parti Socialiste president François Hollande declared on December 1 that he would not stand, making him the first incumbent president of the Fifth Republic not to seek re-election.
The election is likely to be influenced by a wave of terrorist attacks in the country over the last two years, including a shooting on Paris’ Champs Elysées on Thursday.
France is also suffering economically at the moment with 10 percent unemployment and weak GDP growth.
France makes up 13% of the population of the EU and is one of the major net contributors to the EU budget, behind Germany and the UK. With Brexit looming, French and German power within the bloc is set to grow even stronger, but candidates are split between supporting and seeking to leave the EU.
Around 47 million French citizens are entitled to vote, and voting begins in French overseas territories on April 22.
Most polling stations in mainland France close at 7pm on April 23, although those in major cities remain open until 8pm.
First estimates of the result can be published from 8pm, early results are expected around 9pm, and by 10:30pm a clearer picture should emerge.
A centrist politician without the backing of any major political party, Macron formed the En Marche! (On The Move!) movement after three years in the socialist party.
Strongly pro-EU, the 39-year-old former government minister backs liberal economic policies, pushing perceived business-friendly measures to boost the economy. He wants to cut corporation tax, increase defense and police spending, improve pay for teachers and unity in the country.
Macron has a real chance of becoming France’s youngest-ever president. He took the lead in opinion polling in late March, and polls suggest that if he reaches the second round he would defeat second-placed Marine Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen
Le Pen is an anti-EU MEP and leader of the far-right Front National (National Front) party.
Formed by her father Jean-Marie, the party has a controversial history of xenophobia, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. Le Pen has tried to move FN away from the far-right image of her father, even expelling him in 2015.
She wants France to withdraw from the European Union and NATO, and to slash immigration to 10,000 “entries” annually. She also decries globalization and has vowed to fight “radical Islam” by among other things closing “extremist” mosques. She also wants to give French citizens priority in social housing.
Like her conservative opponent François Fillon, Le Pen is embroiled in a fake jobs scandal involving her staff. The EU parliament wants her to return €340,000 but Le Pen has refused and denies any wrong-doing.
Le Pen led in opinion polling until early April. If she wins, she will become the first far-right President to be elected in the regional bloc’s history.
Representing the centre-right Les Républicains (The Republican party), Fillon is mired in a corruption scandal centered on payments of hundreds of thousands of euro to his wife for working in his office, a job which it is claimed she did not do.
He wants to end the country’s beloved 35-hour work week, raise the retirement age, cut public spending, abolish the wealth tax, and reduce immigration. He opposes equal marriage and adoption, and wants the EU to lift sanctions on Russia.
Fillon, who was Prime Minister of France from 2007 to 2012 under President Nicolas Sarkozy, saw off competition for the conservative party’s nomination from Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppé.
Leader of La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) movement, and endorsed by the Front de Gauche (Left Front) which includes the Parti de Gauche (Left Party) and the French Communist party.
Mélenchon wants to raise the minimum wage, introduce a 100 percent tax on monthly earnings above €33,000 ($35,000), cut the working week to 32 hours, and do more for France’s underclass.
He has promised a French withdrawal from NATO and wants a renegotiation of key EU treaty provisions.
Initially lagging far behind, the unabashed socialist Mélenchon has surged in polls recently, mainly on account of his firebrand style and performance in televised debates.
Centre-left Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) nominee, Hamon wants to create universal basic income, legalize cannabis, and impose a “robot tax” for technology that takes jobs away from humans.
A former cabinet member in Hollande’s government, Hamon won a shock victory in the party’s presidential primaries over former prime minister Manuel Valls.
Six other candidates are standing, but are unlikely be in the running for the second round. They are: Nathalie Arthaud, Francois Asselineau, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Jean Lassalle, Philippe Poutou