The French will elect a new president in two rounds of voting, the first on 23 April, i.e. in two days’ time and the second on 7 May. Here is why this could be a historic election for France…

The basics:

To be a candidate, you need to be endorsed by at least 500 mayors, MPs, MEPs or senators. If no-one wins a majority in the first round, the two candidates with the highest number of votes will face off two weeks later in the second round.

This two-round system, which is also used in parliamentary, local and regional polls, was introduced in 1962 by Charles de Gaulle to keep extremists out of power. As the French say, you vote first with your heart, and then with your head.

The front-runners are Marine Le Pen (far right), Emmanuel Macron (centre-right), François Fillon (centre-right, but more to the right economically than Macron), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far left).

Almost all the polls in the last two years have indicated that Marine Le Pen will advance to the run-off but will lose in the second round. But how reliable are the polls? Recent experience shows that polls can sometimes be very unreliable.

Why is this election different?

The short answer is because it comes right on the heels of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, which both have weakened the European Union. This election could result in a new French president who is pro-Frexit!

A President Le Pen would be a heavy blow to Europe. A victory for the Mélenchon, who is a Eurosceptic, would also be a blow to the establishment.

If Macron wins, however, there’s a good chance of centrist, pro-European policies in the future.

This is a different election also because there is a real chance that neither of the traditional centre-right and centre-left parties that have governed France since the 1950s will reach the second round.

Who are the front-runners?

There are 4 front-runners but we’ll look at 5…

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron, who is only 39, studied at the elite Sciences Po and École Nationale d’Administration. He then worked as a civil servant for a short time before becoming a Rothschild’s banker and then an adviser and economy minister in Hollande’s government. Macron claims that he wants to break the “complacency and vacuity” of French politics. He claims to be neither left nor right but “pragmatic and fair”. He is economically liberal and pro-business but a progressive on social issues. Macron’s Achille’s Heels are that he has never held elected office and that he is seen by some as the banker’s candidate. He is clearly pro-Europe and seems to be Brussels’ favourite choice.

Marine Le Pen

The populist, nationalist Marine Le Pen, 48, is the daughter of FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. He was the extremist politician who made it to the second round of the presidential election in 2002. Marine Le Pen, who is a lawyer, took over the leadership of the party after a bitter power struggle with her father, and has managed to detoxify the party’s image.

The Front National has been growing steadily for some years. They now control 14 town halls and have two MPs.
Le Pen, who is, like another candidate François Fillon, involved in a fake jobs scandal, says she wants to end immigration, reduce crime, and eradicate Islamism. She also wants to pull France out of Europe and save it from globalisation. She talks about “economic nationalism” which will favour French businesses, and “France-first” social policies in housing, health, education and employment.

Le Pen has promised to take France out of the euro and hold a referendum on France’s EU membership, so she is certainly bad for the EU.

François Fillon

François Fillon, 63, is a former prime minister. He is a provincial French conservative and he has the support of France’s Catholic right who wish to preserve traditional family values. Economically he has radical right-wing views, promising “Thatcherite” reforms such as cutting taxes, reducing public spending and public sector jobs, raising the retirement age, freeing up labour laws and breaking trade union power.

Fillon, who presented himself as a “clean hands” candidate, has been accused of giving his wife and children taxpayer-funded fake jobs and has lost a lot of credibility. He had very bad opinion poll results but now seems to have regained some ground.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Mélenchon, 65, heads La France Insoumise (Untamed France). He used to be a junior Socialist minister from 2000 to 2002, but left the party. His policies include shortening the working week, lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum wage and social security benefits, and taxing top earners at 90%. He is also against nuclear power and wants to abolish the presidential regime of the Fifth Republic. In foreign affairs, he wants to withdraw France from Nato, develop warmer ties with Russia, and renegotiate the terms of France’s EU membership, followed by an in-out referendum.

Mélenchon has been running a sleek high-tech campaign and has had strong performances in televised debates. These have allowed him to attract more potential voters, mostly at the expense of Benoît Hamon who we’ll talk about next, even if he is not among the front-runners.

Benoît Hamon

And finally the official centre-left Socialist party candidate Benoît Hamon who is 49. This former education minister is a leftwing rebel who is trying to move the socialist party to the left. As a result, many of the heavy-weights of the socialist party have abandoned him and have backed Macron instead. Hamon’s main policies include the introduction of a universal basic income.

Hamon has lost a lot of votes to Mélanchon who is further left, and seems to have a very slim chance of reaching the second-round.

The winner?

The latest polls show Macron at 23%, Le Pen at 22%, Fillon at 20% and Melenchon at 19%, so the race remains very tight.

The recent terrorist attack on Champs Élysées in which a gunman opened fire on a police van killing one policeman and wounding two others before he himself was killed, could well benefit Marine Le Pen who is for tougher anti-terrorist policies, and François Fillon who presents himself as a safe pair of hands. Marine Le Pen has already condemned what she calls security lapses. And Fillon has said that the next president’s priority should be fighting “Islamist totalitarianism”.

And you?

What do you think of the French presidential election and its importance? Are you French? Are you going to vote? Have you made up your mind with only a couple of days to go before the election?

PS This hilarious video from John Oliver is a good watch even if some parts may be difficult to understand. And do watch it to the end. The best part comes at the very end! ????