Today, France holds the first round of their presidential election following a race that has proved very divisive and viewed around the world as a barometer of the state of populism in Europe.
What was originally expected to be a race between the far-right Marine Le Pen and Republican Francois Fillon has evolved into an unpredictable four-horse race, with centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Here’s what you need to know about the first round of the French presidential election.
HOW DOES THE ELECTION WORK?
Today, French voters will choose from 11 different candidates for president using the first-past-the-post voting system. Should one candidate receive more than 50% of the vote in today’s election, they will become the new president. If this doesn’t happen, which is extremely likely, the top two candidates of today’s vote will go into another election where they are the only candidates to choose from. The candidates with the most votes in this second vote, which will take place in a fortnight, wins.
THE FOUR MAIN CANDIDATES
EMMANUEL MACRON – EN MARCHE (CENTRE)
A former investment banker who has never held political office, Macron has surged from underdog to bookies favourite to become the next president of France. Macron served alongside President Hollande as one of his advisors, before serving as economy minister from 2014 until last year, when he resigned to form his own political party ‘En Marche’ (On The Move). Macron’s political stance has been compared to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and he has been pro-Europe and in favour of the free market. Macron has pledged to ensure France works restores confidence in the European Union, introduced a national training effort to help tackle unemployment and implement local integration programs to help immigrants assimilate.
MARINE LE PEN – FRONT NATIONAL (FAR-RIGHT)
Since becoming the leader of party after his father quit the role, Marine Le Pen has moved the party away from the controversies of the past, including Holocaust denial, towards greater support on the back of populism. Le Pen’s hard line views on immigration and her pledge to hold a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union has attracted millions of disillusioned voters to her cause. Among her 144 commitments include leaving NATO, scrapping same-sex marriage and lowering the retirement age to 60.
FRANCOIS FILLON – LES REPUBLICAINS (CENTRE-RIGHT)
Fillon, a conservative and admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, defeated favourite Alain Juppe in his party’s primary for the presidential election. One of the initial front-runners in the election, Fillon and his campaign suffered a major blow after he was charged with embezzlement, misuse of public funds and aggravated fraud for paying his wife almost €1 million for a job that didn’t exist. He denies the claims and vowed to continue to fight the election regardless of the investigation. Enjoying strong support from traditionalist Catholics, Fillon has called for immigration to be reduced to the bare minimum and strengthen cultural education in schools.
JEAN-LUC MELENCHON – LA FRANCE INSOUMISE (FAR-LEFT)
A socialist activist backed by the country’s communist party, Melenchon and his ‘Defiant France’ movement has soared in the polls from rank outsider to third place in some. Much of his support seems to have come from Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, who has plummeted to below 10%. A staunch anti-capitalist, Melenchon has vowed to create a €100 billion economic stimulus plan, withdraw France from NATO and the EU and establishing the ‘Sixth Republic’, with radical reforms to boost the power of the parliament.
WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY?
Polls strongly suggest that Macron and Le Pen will be the two candidates that will go through to the second round, with 25% and 23% respectively. However, Fillon and Melenchon are within the margin of error in polling and could possibly make it through. Since the first presidential election in 1965, only three elections have seen the candidate that placed first in the first round go on to lose.
WHEN WILL WE KNOW THE RESULT?
Exit polls should be announced at 5pm British time, with the first results coming through around two to three hours later. By midnight, the results of the election should be confirmed.