Presidential race

From L to R: Francois Fillon, Benoit Hamon, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc MelenchonImage copyright
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The five main candidates are (L-R) Francois Fillon, Benoit Hamon, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon

Eleven candidates have joined the race for the French presidency, and the campaign is now into its final stages ahead of the election on 23 April.

There are three front-runners and as none are likely to secure an outright majority, a run-off between the two candidates is now expected on 7 May.

For the first time in 15 years, the far-right National Front has a realistic chance of winning the race under Marine Le Pen. Centrist Emmanuel Macron is challenging her in the opinion polls after the centre-right Republican Francois Fillon was derailed by an investigation into misuse of public funds.

For the first time in modern French history, the incumbent – Socialist President Francois Hollande – is not running for a second term because of poor poll ratings.

All you need to know about the French election

Marine Le Pen, National Front (FN)

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She took over the FN leadership from her father in January 2011 and came third in presidential elections the following year. She brought the party big electoral gains in regional elections in late 2015.

Opinion polls suggest she is neck and neck with Emmanuel Macron but unlikely to defeat him in the second round in May.

The Marine Le Pen story

In 2010, before being elected leader, Marine Le Pen compared Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation. Now she has softened her tone and the FN has also tried to build bridges with the Jewish community.

Meanwhile other nationalist parties – in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere – have emerged, making the FN much less of a French exception.

Hugh Schofield: Is France’s National Front leader far-right?

Marine Le Pen, 48, trained as a lawyer and headed the FN’s legal department. After years of fighting and losing French parliamentary elections, she was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 and remains an MEP, representing North-West France.

Marine Le Pen is twice divorced with three children, and lives in the western suburbs of Paris.

What she wants:

  • Negotiation with Brussels on a new EU, followed by a referendum
  • “Automatic” expulsion of illegal immigrants and legal immigration cut to 10,000 per year
  • “Extremist” mosques closed and priority to French nationals in social housing
  • Retirement age fixed at 60 and 35-hour week assured

Emmanuel Macron, En Marche (On the Move)

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At 39, he has a real chance of becoming France’s youngest-ever president because polls suggest if he reaches the run-off on 7 May he would defeat Marine Le Pen.

He is not an MP and has never stood for election before but his political rise has been meteoric.

A brilliant student who went on to become an investment banker, Emmanuel Macron worked as economic adviser to President Hollande before taking up the post of economy minister in 2014.

He forged a reputation with his “Macron Law”, a controversial reform bill that allowed shops to open more often on Sundays and deregulated some sectors of industry. He championed digital start-ups and prompted a long-distance bus market.

While a breath of fresh air for France’s business community, his policies aroused opposition among the left of the governing Socialists.

But when he set up En Marche as “neither left nor right” in April 2016, his position in the Socialist government became increasingly untenable and he resigned before launching a presidential bid.

Mr Macron is married to his former French teacher Brigitte Trogneux, 20 years his senior, and has seven step-grandchildren.

What he wants:

  • €50bn (£43bn; $53bn) public investment plan to cover job-training, exit from coal and shift to renewable energy, infrastructure and modernisation
  • Reimbursement of full cost of glasses, dentures and hearing aids
  • Big cut in corporation tax and more leeway for companies to renegotiate 35-hour week
  • Cut in jobless rate to 7% (now 9.7%)
  • Ban on mobile phone use in schools for under-15s and a €500 culture pass for 18 year olds

Emmanuel Macron: France’s ambitious man ‘on the move’

France’s Macron joins presidential race to ‘unblock France’

Francois Fillon, The Republicans

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When Mr Fillon, 62, won his centre-right party’s nomination for the presidency he immediately became the favourite.

The two men he defeated, Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppe, have over the years been dogged by controversy, but now Mr Fillon is too.

His campaign has been rocked by allegations that his wife and two children improperly received public funds. Initially he said he would step aside if he was placed under formal investigation but as it became clear that was on the cards he changed his mind.

He complained he was the victim of a “political assassination” and said the voices of “millions of votes have been muzzled”.

He is behind the two favourites but not out of the running.

Mr Fillon studied law and married his Welsh wife, Penelope Clarke, in 1980 in Llanover, near Abergavenny. They have five children and their home is a 12th-Century manor house near Le Mans in western France.

What he wants:

  • To scrap half a million public sector jobs and the 35-hour work week
  • Removing the wealth tax (ISF)
  • To strip jihadists returning from the wars in Iraq or Syria of French nationality
  • Requiring parents in receipt of social allowances to agree to a “parental responsibility contract”, to tackle children’s absenteeism or behaviour “disrespectful of the values of the [French] republic”
  • Lifting EU sanctions on Russia and helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defeat so-called Islamic State (IS).

Benoit Hamon, Socialist Party

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Renowned as a left-wing rebel within the Socialist party, ex-education minister Benoit Hamon decisively won the race for the party nomination, defeating former Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Known as the “French Bernie Sanders”, Mr Hamon, 49, is struggling to make much headway in the presidential race, partly because of competition from far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. He has also struggled to secure broad support across a divided Socialist party.

With his designer stubble and cheeky grin, he has some of the most eye-catching policies, from taxing the wealth created by robots to a universal monthly payment for French citizens. He has since had to revise his basic income plan, reducing its cost from €400bn to €35bn.

“The money party has too many candidates in this election,” he told supporters. “One says ‘Get rich!’ and the other two say ‘Make us rich!'”, he complained, referring to Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon.

What he wants:

  • To legalise cannabis and tax the wealth on robots that take the jobs of humans
  • To scrap a 2016 law making it easier to hire and fire workers
  • A basic income plan to boost salaries of those earning less than €2,185 per month
  • The unemployed would receive up to €600 per month and those on the minimum wage around €200
  • Renewable energy to form 50% of electricity by 2025 and pull out of nuclear energy by 2050

Mr Hamon’s partner is Gabrielle Guallar and the couple have two daughters.

Benoit Hamon to be Socialist candidate in French election

Jean-Luc Melenchon, Parti de Gauche (Left Party)

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With the centre-left experiencing a meltdown in popular support, firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, 65, has sensed a possible opening in the race. He came fourth in the 2012 presidential vote, with 11% of the vote.

His campaign launch was the most imaginative in the race, appearing as a hologram at a rally in Paris while addressing a crowd in Lyon some 500km (310 miles) away.

Backed by France’s Communist Party, he says the means of production, trade and consumption must be changed, and cites climate change as one of his concerns.

Media captionThe moment Jean-Luc Melenchon gets beamed into Paris

He said: “This is a tremendous opportunity to loose the bonds that paralyse us today.”

A former supporter of European federalism, he now calls for France to leave European treaties, saying the EU’s economic liberalism has sapped its ability to deliver democratic change.

He left the Socialist Party in November 2008 to found the Left Party with French deputy Marc Dolez. He joined the Left Front electoral federation and was elected to the European Parliament in 2009, where he still serves.

What he wants:

  • Voting from age of 16 and a “Sixth Republic” to replace the existing presidential system
  • Constituent assembly to acquire greater powers, voted in by proportional representation
  • Zero homelessness and full reimbursement for prescribed health care
  • Recognised burn-out as an occupational disease

Jean-Luc Melenchon announces 2017 France presidency bid

Who are the other candidates?

Six other candidates gathered the required 500 signatures of elected officials across France to stand in the 2017 presidential vote.

Nathalie Arthaud, Lutte Ouvriere (Workers’ Struggle), 46, Trotsykist: seeks to prohibit redundancies and job cuts, increase of salaries and pensions to €1,800, impose worker control on enterprises and ownership of means of production.

Francois Asselineau, Union Populaire Républicaine (Popular Republic Union), 59, Hard-right nationalist: seeks withdrawal of France from the EU, euro and Nato, to renationalise big industries and private corporations.

Jacques Cheminade, 75, Ex-civil servant in economy ministry seeks to ditch the EU and abandon the euro. A follower of US conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, 55, Debout La France (Stand Up France) Gaullist: wants to leave the euro and scrap the EU, higher ethical standards for elected officials, put the fight against jihadist terrorism at the centre of foreign policy.

Jean Lassalle, 61, centrist, independent MP who wants to renegotiate European treaties; staged a 39-day hunger strike in 2006 in a bid to save 140 jobs at a factory and walked 5,000km across France in 2013.

Philippe Poutou, 50, New Anti-Capitalist Party Former Ford car worker wants to lower retirement age to 60, reducing the working week to 32 hours and make abortion and contraception free and accessible.

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