PARIS • Seven French presidential hopefuls will take to the debate stage for the first time today in their quest for nomination in November as the right-wing candidate in the 2017 election.
With Socialist President Francois Hollande's deep unpopularity leaving the left in disarray, and the far-right National Front flagbearer Marine Le Pen riding high in the polls, one of the seven is expected to snatch the presidency in a run-off vote in May.
Mr Alain Juppe, 71, the favourite in the primary race, is a former prime minister who is seen as a moderate, notably on immigration, and is campaigning as a unifier.
He is also a former foreign minister - under his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy and, earlier, under Socialist president Francois Mitterrand in a right-left "co-habitation" government. Mr Juppe returned from political exile after a party finance scandal in 2004, winning back his post as mayor of Bordeaux in 2006.
Now viewed as an elder statesman, he has become one of the country's most popular politicians two decades after his reform agenda sparked large protests.
Mr Juppe pledges to achieve "full employment" for France, where joblessness has long been stuck at about 10 per cent, and to pull the country out of "stagnation".
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 61, is one of the most divisive figures in French politics. His tough talk on security and national identity has endeared him to many conservatives but made him a figure of hate on the left.
Since July's terror attack in Nice, he has countered Mr Juppe's unifying stance with a series of hardline proposals, including banning the burkini swimsuit and shutting away all those suspected of being radicalised in detention centres.
Mr Francois Fillon, 62, prime minister throughout Mr Sarkozy's 2007-12 presidency, became the youngest member of the French Parliament at age 27 in 1981 and went on to hold several ministerial portfolios. He narrowly lost the 2012 party elections to head the UMP, now called the Republicans.
Mr Bruno Le Maire, 47, lost to Mr Sarkozy in the 2014 contest to head the UMP. He was agriculture minister under Mr Sarkozy from 2009 to 2012 but has struggled to shake off an image as an over-educated technocrat.
Mr Jean-Francois Cope, 52, was forced to resign as president of the UMP in June 2014 over a campaign finance scandal that is also dogging Mr Sarkozy.
At 43, Ms Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet is the youngest candidate, and the only woman. Known by her initials NKM, she made an unsuccessful bid to become Paris mayor in 2014.
The head of the Christian Democratic Party, 53-year-old Jean-Frederic Poisson, has taken a firm stance against gay marriage.