Paris, April 23
France began voting Sunday under heavy security in the first round of the most unpredictable presidential election in decades, with the outcome seen as vital for the future of the beleaguered European Union.
Nearly 47 million people will choose between 11 candidates that include a far-right leader praised by US President Donald Trump; a scandal-hit conservative; a 39-year-old former investment banker; and a leftwing radical who campaigns by hologram.
France’s 10% unemployment, its lacklustre economy and security are the top concerns in this election.
Security was tight after a deadly attack on the Champs-Elysees on Thursday in which a police officer and a gunman were slain.
The vote “is really important, mainly because we really need a change in this country with all the difficulties we are facing and terrorism,” said Paris resident Alain Richaud, who was waiting to cast his vote.
This election will be the first in the history of France’s 59-year-old Fifth Republic to take place under a state of emergency, which was put in place after the Paris attacks of November 2015.
Here’s a lowdown on everything you need to know, and some:
Why is it important?
France is the European Union’s second-biggest economy and also one of the world’s biggest military and diplomatic powers.
With two of the leading four top candidates hostile to the EU and NATO, the election could further shake up the West’s liberal post-war order, already rattled by Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election to the White House.
How is the president elected?
The president is elected directly by the people in a vote of one or two rounds. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first round, a run-off is held two weeks later. Every presidential election since 1965 has gone to a second round.
Who is running?
Eleven candidates spanning the spectrum from Trotskyist left to far-right are running.
The four favourites are far-right:
– National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, 48
– Centrist En Marche (On The Move) leader Emmanuel Macron, 39
– Conservative Republicans nominee Francois Fillon, 63
– Hard left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, 65.
– Socialist nominee Benoit Hamon, 49
– Philippe Poutou, a 50-year-old Ford factory worker
Pro-sovereignty candidates Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, 56, Francois Asselineau, 59 and Jacques Cheminade, 75
– Trotskyist economy teacher Nathalie Arthaud, 47
– Jean Lassalle, a 61-year-old MP and former shepherd.
How does the election work?
46.87 million voters are registered to vote.
More than 50,000 police backed by 7,000 soldiers from the Sentinelle (Sentry) anti-terror
operation will be on patrol during the vote.
When will the results be known?
Projections based on partial results usually come in at 8:00pm but could be delayed due to the extra hour of voting. The two top will go through to a run-off on May 7.
The next president will be sworn in by May 14 at the latest, taking over from Socialist President