French Presidential Elections: What you need to know
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Next month, France will go to the polls in the first round of its presidential election - with a second round on 7th May, should no candidate win a majority. Here’s everything you need to know. Background Following extremely low approval ratings, reaching just 4% last November, François Hollande became the first incumbent president of the Fifth Republic to announce he would not seek re-election. The latter are usually a two-horse race between France’s two major political parties: the centre-right Les Républicains (“The Republicans”, formerly UMP), and the centre-left Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party, PS). However, Hollande’s unpopularity, political scandals, and the recent Brexit and Trump victory have given rise to uncertainty regarding the result and given way to previously less prevalent and new political parties. Who are the candidates? To be eligible for the first round, aspiring candidates must secure 500 signatures from election officials from around the country – called “parrainages”. Candidates have from 25th February until 17th March to secure the signatures, with the final list of candidates posted on 21st March. Here are the five most prominent candidates: Marine Le Pen - Front-National (FN) Succeeding her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as leader of the far-right, populist and nationalist FN in 2011, Marine Le Pen has been undertaking an “un-demonisation” of the party. Indeed, under her father’s leadership - largely seen as an anti-Semite and racist - the party developed a toxic and extremist image. Marine’s plan seems to be working: the latest opinion polls place her in the lead with 27%. In the 2012 elections, she finished third in the first round, with 17.90% of votes. Could she win? Le Pen was one of the first to congratulate Trump and the “free” American people on his win. Brexit and the US elections have left many fearing - or hoping for - an FN win. However, the party’s somewhat negative reputation still hovers, and many remain doubtful Le Pen could win the second round of the elections. François Fillon - Les Républicains (LR) An open admirer of Margaret Thatcher’s reforms, Fillon - who served as Prime Minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency - aims to higher the country’s economy by reducing its public sector and cutting 500,000 civil-service jobs. He started his campaign with a Mr Clean image, but this changed in January when a scandal emerged: his Welsh wife Penelope received a salary amounting to €600,000 in the span of eight years, for a fictitious job as her husband’s parliamentary assistant. Could he win? Previously seen as a frontrunner, “Penelopegate” plunged Fillon’s campaign into chaos, with many calling for his resignation. He currently holds the third position in the opinion polls, with 20%.
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