PARIS – More and more people want to join France's unpredictable presidential race, with a once-prominent centrist expected to join the field Wednesday along with other hopefuls who will never win — but might garner enough votes to tilt the outcome.
Starting Saturday, the would-be candidates each have until March 17 to gather the signatures of 500 mayors (from the more than 35,000 across France) to qualify for the two-round election April 23 and May 7. With two months before voting begins, here's a look at who wants to run and why:
With Europe's migrant wave and fears of Islamic extremism on many voters' minds, polls show high support for the tough-on-security platform of conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and the nationalist campaign of far right leader Marine Le Pen. However, Fillon's juggernaut has stumbled on allegations of fake taxpayer-funded jobs for his wife and children — particularly damaging for someone pledging to slash public spending. Le Pen, who came in third in the 2012 race, is facing financial investigations, too. And while she hopes to ride a wave of anti-establishment, anti-European Union sentiment to power, numerous critics remain who fear her worldview is racist and dangerous.
With Socialist President Francois Hollande's popularity so dismal he declined to seek a second term, the French left entered the race at a disadvantage. Benoit Hamon won the 2017 Socialist nomination on promises of paying every citizen a universal income, taxing robots and improving relations with France's Muslim population. But he faces his biggest challenge from far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, No. 4 in the 2012 election, who wants to shorten France's 35-hour workweek, leave NATO and block free-trade deals. Neither Hamon nor Melenchon seems keen to unite under a single banner to boost the left's chances.
MAVERICK IN THE MIDDLE
Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, who champions technology startups and European unity, has been the biggest surprise of the race so far. Seen as an outsider and a fresh face, the 39-year-old former investment banker and economy minister saw his support ratings jump when Fillon's financial troubles emerged. But Macron still hasn't released his campaign platform, and pollsters suggest even his supporters aren't entirely convinced the first-time candidate is presidential material.
Another centrist, three-time presidential candidate Francois Bayrou, no longer has the sway he once enjoyed but still hopes to shake up this race. Bayrou is making an announcement Wednesday widely expected to be his candidacy. While he came in third in 2007 with a substantial 18 percent of the vote, current polls show his support around a third of that. A Bayrou candidacy this year could sap votes from Macron or Fillon in the first round of voting, hurting their ability to get into the runoff.
Other presidential hopefuls are lining up across the spectrum. Among them:
Trotskyist Nathalie Artaud and Philippe Poutou of the New Anti-Capitalist Party occupy the way-far-left;
Green party candidate Yannick Jadot wants to end France's huge reliance on nuclear power;
"Sovereignty" candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan campaigns against the EU and the euro;
Rama Yade, a former government minister and Senegalese immigrant, and onetime Defense Minister Michele Aliot-Marie want to reincarnate the statist vision of wartime hero Charles de Gaulle;
And French voters may again see Jacques Cheminade's name on their ballot. The independent seems undeterred by his last-place showing in 1995 and 2012.