Europe

11 candidates vie for French presidency in high-stakes race

  • Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte leave their house before voting in the first round of the French presidential election, in le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte leave their house before voting in the first round of the French presidential election, in le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)  (The Associated Press)

  • French centrist presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot for the first round of the presidential election in Le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (Eric Feferberg, Pool photo via AP)

    French centrist presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot for the first round of the presidential election in Le Touquet, northern France, Sunday April 23, 2017. (Eric Feferberg, Pool photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this April 17, 2017 file photo, far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen gestures as she arrives for a campaign meeting in Paris. Marine Le Pen, whose passion for politics and far-right values were forged in the cradle, is making her second bid for the French presidency, hoping this time to break through the ceiling of fear that stopped her father from winning in 2002. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu, File)

    FILE - In this April 17, 2017 file photo, far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen gestures as she arrives for a campaign meeting in Paris. Marine Le Pen, whose passion for politics and far-right values were forged in the cradle, is making her second bid for the French presidency, hoping this time to break through the ceiling of fear that stopped her father from winning in 2002. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu, File)  (The Associated Press)

From far left to far right, young to old, 11 candidates are vying for France's presidency in an election that is being watched as an indicator of populism's global appeal. The traditional left-right contenders are joined — and often have been overshadowed during the campaign — by rivals pledging to scrap long-held expectations, such as France's participation in the European Union and NATO.

French voters cast ballots Sunday in the first round of the election. The top-two vote-getters there move on to a presidential runoff vote on May 7.

Here's a look at the candidates competing Sunday, who they are and what they promise for France:

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EMMANUEL MACRON

Macron, 39, is a centrist with strong pro-business, pro-European views and an unconventional love story.

A former investment banker at Rothschild, he was unknown to the French people until Socialist President Francois Hollande named him economy minister in 2014, Macron never has held elected office. He now is considered one of the race's front-runners.

Macron launched his own political movement, En Marche! (In Motion!) last year, and is running without the backing of an established party.

Macron wants more robust counterterrorism efforts and pledged to put pressure on internet giants to better monitor extremism online.

Macron's wife, Brigitte, is 24 years his senior. The couple has publicly described the unusual way their romance started — when he was a student at the high school where she was a teacher, in the town of Amiens in northern France.

She was then a married mother of three children. She eventually divorced and joined him in Paris, where he was studying.

The couple married in 2007.

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MARINE LE PEN

The 48-year-old leader of the far-right National Front party is making her second bid for the French presidency. Le Pen placed third in the 2012 election and would be France's first woman president if she wins this time around.

A bold and gritty leader, she has become a political force by promising to restore France as a secure sovereign state. The methods she proposes include taking France out of the European Union and cracking down on what she calls the "massive immigration" of radical Muslims she claims are trying to supplant her country's Judeo-Christian heritage.

Le Pen has tried to remake the image of the National Front since she assumed its leadership in 2011. To remove the taint of racism and anti-Semitism that clung to it for decades under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, she expelled many old-guard members, her father included.

However, Le Pen has a reputation for being loyal. Old friends from her days studying law in Paris, former members of a student group known for violence and anti-Semitism, hold crucial roles in her inner circle.

Her longtime associates also are at the center of an alleged party financing scheme that has resulted in charges due to be heard in court.

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FRANCOIS FILLON

The conservative candidate has fallen from front-runner to struggling survivor in the presidential race after corruption allegations severely damaged his earlier image as an earnest and honest politician.

Fillon's campaign has been flailing since the allegations that he used public funds to pay his wife and two of their children for jobs they never performed surfaced in January. He denies wrongdoing.

Fillon, 63, was France's prime minister from 2007 to 2012 during Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency. He first was elected to Parliament in 1981, when he was 27.

He said his priority as president would be the fight against Islamic extremism.

Fillon has pledged to boost police and military forces, cut business taxes, slash public spending to boost France's stagnant economy and to reduce immigration "to a strict minimum."

He also has a strong focus on traditional family values.

The corruption scandal has put his Welsh wife, Penelope, under the spotlight. The couple has five children.

Last month, Fillon was handed preliminary charges that include misuse of public funds and receiving money from misuse of public funds.

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JEAN-LUC MELENCHON

A radical Trotskyist in his youth, the 65-year-old far-left candidate is now backed by the Communist Party.

Along with Le Pen, Melenchon is one of the faces of French populism. He also is unhappy with the European Union, which he says is driven by money instead of concern for the people of Europe.

Melenchon is running for president for the second consecutive time after finishing in fourth place five years ago with 11 percent of the vote.

This year, his debating skills, anti-capitalist rhetoric, pugnacity and grasp of social issues have helped him surge during the campaign's closing stages.

Melenchon promises to tax the rich, spend heavily on the public and to renegotiate France's role in the 28-nation EU. He also wants to give more power to Parliament, where he previously served as a senator.

Melenchon says migrants need to be welcomed humanely. At one rally by the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, he held a moment of silence for the thousands of migrants who drowned while trying to cross it.

He has used technology to his advantage during the campaign, most notably by using holograms of himself speaking at political rallies to appear simultaneously in multiple venues.

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THE OTHER CANDIDATES

The governing Socialists are on the verge of a stunning collapse.

After five years of Socialist Francois Hollande's presidency, voters appear to be abandoning Socialist contender Benoit Hamon, with many switching to Melenchon.

Hamon's promise of a universal income has failed to charm voters, and polls suggest he has no chance to advance to the presidential runoff.

However, he and six other candidates could pull enough votes away from the top contenders to influence the race.

Right-wing candidate Francois Asselineau is campaigning for a "Frexit" from the European Union, as is left-leaning Jacques Cheminade. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, another candidate on the right, has spoken like Le Pen of wanting to restore France's "sovereignty."

The far left is further splintered between Trotskyist Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou of the New Anti-Capitalist Party.

Centrist candidate Jean Lassalle made headlines in 2006 when he lost 21 kilograms (46 pounds) during a hunger strike to preserve jobs for his constituents.