The simple guide to following the French election

Decision time.
Decision time.
Image: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes
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After a turbulent and unpredictable campaign lasting months, the French will finally head to the polls to elect their next president this weekend, in the first of two rounds of voting. Following a year marked by multiple political upsets, many wonder whether France will be the next country to embrace the growing populist movement in the West. Here’s your guide for what’s at stake:

Who’s running?

There are currently 11 candidates in the running to became France’s next president, but only five are considered serious contenders: far right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron, former prime minister François Fillon, socialist Benoît Hamon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the far left.

One politician who definitely won’t be president after May 7 is current leader François Hollande, who becomes the first sitting French president not to stand for reelection in almost 60 years.

When do polls open and close?

The presidential election will take place over the next few weeks, beginning with the first round of voting on Sunday (April 23).

All 11 candidates will be on the ballot paper for the first round, and assuming nobody claims more than 50% of the vote (something that has never happened), the most popular two will move to the second and final round on May 7.

Polling stations will be open from 8am until 7pm CET (8pm in larger cities like Paris) for both rounds of voting.

Who’s the favorite?

Like many recent elections across the globe, the French election has been highly unpredictable, with opinion polls unable to separate many of the candidates.

Recent polls show Le Pen and Macron as the most likely pair to progress through to the final round. Once the pair are head-to-head, polls suggest that Macron will ultimately take the presidency, but nothing is certain.

Latest poll figures also predict a drop in voter turnout, with 72% of the electorate expected to cast their vote, a sharp decrease from the 84% who voted in 2007, and the 80% who turned out in 2012. Many have grown disillusioned with the French political system due to scandals and party fractures. Some people are concerned that voter apathy will lead to a far right victory, as it did with Donald Trump in last year’s US elections.

When will we know the results?

Traditionally, the results of both rounds are announced on national television at 8pm on election day, when an image of the winning candidate or candidates is displayed. In the past, there have been strict rules—and the risk of financial penalties—if the result is revealed any earlier by media outlets, but in the age of social media it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep things under wraps.

When will the winner take power?

The winner of the election is expected to take over by May 22, but the exact date will only be announced once the election is over. Hollande will welcome his successor to Élysée Palace for the handover, after which the new president makes a traditional trip to Paris City Hall.