Leading candidates

MARINE LE PEN
MARINE LE PEN
EMMANUEL MACRON
EMMANUEL MACRON
FRANCOIS FILLON
FRANCOIS FILLON
JEAN-LUC MELENCHON
JEAN-LUC MELENCHON
BENOIT HAMON
BENOIT HAMON

MARINE LE PEN

Since becoming party leader in 2011, Ms Marine Le Pen has been on a drive to clean up the anti-European Union, anti-immigration National Front's racist image and re-position it as a party perceived as putting French interests first.

Tipped to come in first or second in the election's opening round, polls show that the 48-year-old would, however, struggle to win a run-off against her main rival on May 7, when she would need to garner more than 50 per cent of the vote.

She has presented the election as a battle between the "patriots" ready to defend France and its values, and "globalists" whose support for immigration and open borders she claims has caused economic and social calamity.

US President Donald Trump praised her last Friday as "the strongest on what has been going on in France".


EMMANUEL MACRON

The telegenic former investment banker hoping to become the youngest president in France's post-war history was an adviser to current Socialist President Francois Hollande, and later became his economy minister.

The 39-year-old, a one-time philosopher's assistant, quit the government last year and launched his own centrist political movement "En Marche" ("On the Move").

Polls show him running neck-and-neck with Ms Le Pen in the first round, and easily beating her in the run-off.

Mr Macron has never stood for election before and has been accused of being short on substance, but he argues that he can rejuvenate France with an unabashedly pro-European, pro-business platform.


FRANCOIS FILLON

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy's prime minister is a political veteran who has spent a lifetime preparing for his shot at the Elysee Palace.

He was the clear front runner at the start of the year but has been embroiled in scandal after scandal since January.

The 63-year-old devout Catholic wants to slash state spending and cut 500,000 public sector jobs over the five-year presidential term.

Polls currently show him running third or fourth.


JEAN-LUC MELENCHON

Communist-backed firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has challenged the leaders in the campaign, employing fiery rhetoric, sharp wit and campaign appearances by hologram.

One of the harshest critics of Mr Hollande's presidency, he wants the EU to be revamped if France is to remain a member.

Mr Melenchon, who came in fourth in the 2012 election behind Ms Le Pen, wants to dump France's presidential system for a parliamentary system.

The 65-year-old nationalist promises a €100 billion (S$145 billion) stimulus package and a greener economy.


BENOIT HAMON

The leftist rebel who quit the Socialist government in 2014 in protest against its policy of debt reduction was the surprise winner of January's Socialist primary.

The 49-year-old mild-mannered former education minister saw off former prime minister Manuel Valls with a staunchly leftist programme, including a steep increase in welfare spending.

Despite a lifetime in the Socialist Party, he has been deserted by many of its heavyweights, who have switched their support to Mr Macron. Polls show him running a distant fifth.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Leading candidates'. Print Edition | Subscribe