The beginner's guide to the French elections
Updated 1:34 AM ET, Thu April 20, 2017
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(CNN)France is about to pick a new president. C'est bien, you say, but you're still recovering from the tectonic shifts of 2016. (Brexit! Trump!) You really should pay attention, though. One of Europe's most important countries could end up being run by a far-right leader or someone who's never held elected office. Either way, the result will ripple across the globe.
Why should you care?
When's the election?
Who are the cast of characters?
Marine Le Pen
- Who she is: She's the leader of the far-right National Front party and the frontrunner in the first round of voting. She's also controversial, mainly because of her party's history of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. She's tried to soften the party's image -- to middling success. In April, for instance, she said France was not responsible for the wartime roundup of Jews who were sent to Nazi death camps. That didn't go over well.
- What she wants: She wants France out of both the EU and NATO. She wants to slash immigration to just 10,000 "entries" per year. She decries globalization and has vowed to fight "radical Islam." Sound familiar? If she wins, she becomes the first far-right President elected in EU's history.
- Fun fact: After law school she worked as a public defender and sometimes defended ... illegal immigrants.
- Shocking fact : At age 8, she survived a bombing that destroyed her family's apartment. The attackers were trying to get her dad, who founded the National Front.
- Who he is: He's the biggest surprise in this five-person field. He's a centrist whom no one really took seriously at first. He didn't have the backing of any of the major political parties, so he formed his own. And -- surprise! -- he finds himself right behind Le Pen in the polls.
- What he wants: He backs liberal, yet business-friendly measures, to boost the economy. He wants to increase defense and police spending. He wants better pay for teachers and unity at a time where France is riven with fractures.
- Fun fact: As a 17-year-old, he told his high school teacher that he'd marry her one day. And he did.
- Who he is: He represents the Republican party and has been called the "French Thatcher" for his conservative policies. He was once the frontrunner in the race. But then a scandal erupted about his family members getting paid for jobs they didn't show up to -- and that derailed everything.
- What he wants: He wants to end France's vaunted 35-hour work week, cut public spending, abolish the wealth tax and reduce immigration. And, just like Margaret Thatcher, he's not afraid to tangle with the unions.
- Fun fact: He lives in a 12th-century castle!
- Who he is: He represents the Left Front party, a coalition of ex-Communists, disaffected youth and aging revolutionaries. He's been called the "French Bernie Sanders." He's the most captivating speaker of the bunch and he's surging in the polls.
- What he wants: He wants to raise the minimum wage, raise taxes on the rich and do more for France's underclass.
- Fun fact: He's used holograms during the campaign so he could appear at several rallies at once.
- Who he is : He's the Socialist Party nominee, and is polling last among the five candidates. Being a Socialist in the era of the very unpopular French President Francois Hollande has its price. Hollande is so disliked he decided to not even run for re-election.
- What he wants: He wants to create universal basic income, legalize cannabis, and impose a "robot tax," which would apply to technology that takes away jobs from humans.
- Fun fact: He was once called "Little Ben" because of his height -- he's 5'4".
What are the major issues?
- Fillon's wife and two of his adult children are accused of earning more than $1 million for parliamentary assistant jobs they never showed up for.
- Le Pen posted violent images of killings by ISIS on Twitter (a no-no in France). The European Parliament said she could be prosecuted for that.
- Macron's had to apologize for condemning France's colonial past in Algeria and dismiss talk of an alleged affair.