For voters, it is a case of plus ça change — same-old-same-old — after four months during which the leadership battle has dominated the headlines as it veered from scandal to scandal. France’s presidential election campaign was launched Monday, two weeks before the first round that sees voters faced with an unprecedented choice of 11 candidates. The official opening of the race means all runners, major or minor, must be given the same airtime on television and radio and the same poster space on the municipal billboards. With two weeks to go, two of the front-runners are under investigation for fraud, and the traditional socialist and conservative parties who have governed France for more than 50 years are struggling to remain in the race.
The latest polls have the independent Emmanuel Macron, who does not even have his own political party, virtually tied with far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen to win the first-round vote April 23.
The first two go through to a second vote May 7. Benoît Hamon from the governing Socialist Party has been relegated to fifth place, and François Fillon of the official opposition Les Republicains to third.
In an unexpected twist, the charismatic hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is often compared with Bernie Sanders with his anti-capitalist, anti-globalization program, has risen to fourth place and is now slightly ahead of Fillon, unthinkable a few weeks ago.