Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming vote.
If you’re in the US:
If you’re anywhere else in the world:
If you’re into the markets:
When’s the election?
Who are the cast of characters?
Marine Le Pen
- Who she is: She’s the leader of the far-right National Front party and the frontrunner in the first round of voting. She’s also controversial, mainly because of her party’s history of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. She’s tried to soften the party’s image — to middling success. In April, for instance, she said France was not responsible for the wartime roundup of Jews who were sent to Nazi death camps. That didn’t go over well.
- What she wants: She wants France out of both the EU and NATO. She wants to slash immigration to just 10,000 “entries” per year. She decries globalization and has vowed to fight “radical Islam.” Sound familiar? If she wins, she becomes the first far-right President elected in EU’s history.
- Fun fact: After law school she worked as a public defender and sometimes defended … illegal immigrants.
- Shocking fact : At age 8, she survived a bombing that destroyed her family’s apartment. The attackers were trying to get her dad, who founded the National Front.
- Who he is: He’s the biggest surprise in this five-person field. He’s a centrist whom no one really took seriously at first. He didn’t have the backing of any of the major political parties, so he formed his own. And — surprise! — he finds himself right behind Le Pen in the polls.
- What he wants: He backs liberal, yet business-friendly measures, to boost the economy. He wants to increase defense and police spending. He wants better pay for teachers and unity at a time where France is riven with fractures.
- Fun fact: As a 17-year-old, he told his high school teacher that he’d marry her one day. And he did.
- Who he is: He represents the Republican party and has been called the “French Thatcher” for his conservative policies. He was once the frontrunner in the race. But then a scandal erupted about his family members getting paid for jobs they didn’t show up to — and that derailed everything.
- What he wants: He wants to end France’s vaunted 35-hour work week, cut public spending, abolish the wealth tax and reduce immigration. And, just like Margaret Thatcher, he’s not afraid to tangle with the unions.
- Fun fact: He lives in a 12th-century castle!
- Who he is: He represents the Left Front party, a coalition of ex-Communists, disaffected youth and aging revolutionaries. He’s been called the “French Bernie Sanders.” He’s the most captivating speaker of the bunch and he’s surging in the polls.
- What he wants: He wants to raise the minimum wage, raise taxes on the rich and do more for France’s underclass.
- Fun fact: He’s used holograms during the campaign so he could appear at several rallies at once.
- Who he is : He’s the Socialist Party nominee, and is polling last among the five candidates. Being a Socialist in the era of the very unpopular French President Francois Hollande has its price. Hollande is so disliked he decided to not even run for re-election.
- What he wants: He wants to create universal basic income, legalize cannabis, and impose a “robot tax,” which would apply to technology that takes away jobs from humans.
- Fun fact: He was once called “Little Ben” because of his height — he’s 5’4″.
What are the major issues?
- Fillon’s wife and two of his adult children are accused of earning more than $1 million for parliamentary assistant jobs they never showed up for.
- Le Pen posted violent images of killings by ISIS on Twitter (a no-no in France). The European Parliament said she could be prosecuted for that.
- Macron’s had to apologize for condemning France’s colonial past in Algeria and dismiss talk of an alleged affair.
So, who has a real shot of winning?
Le Pen and Macron are likely to make it to the runoff. Then, Macron could trounce her with left-wing and conservative voters — repulsed by the thought of the leader of the National Front running the country — rallying to him. But remember, right up to election night in the US last year, no one gave Donald Trump much of a chance either, and now we call him Mr. President.
What happens after the election?
We look forward to June when the country holds parliamentary elections. In France, a lot of the heavy lifting in government is done by the prime minister. And the prime minister comes from the party that holds the majority in parliament. So, no matter who’s president, he or she can’t accomplish squat if their party doesn’t win a chunk of seats in the parliament. In other words, the high-stakes drama doesn’t end when this election does.
For the rest of Europe
CNN’s Melissa Bell, James Masters and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.