The campaign hasn’t officially started, but candidates to be France’s next president are already locked into battle. Tonight the top five will face-off on TV, the first time a presidential debate has been held before the start of the election season.
While 11 candidates will be on the ballots in the first round of elections on April 23, only the leading five contestants are to take part in Monday night’s debate: Marine Le Pen of the National Front, Communist-backed Jean-Luc Mélenchon, founder of the centrist En Marche! (On the Move!) movement Emmanuel Macron, Socialist Benoît Hamon and Les Républicains nominee François Fillon.
The campaign season doesn’t officially open until two weeks before the first round of voting, or April 10.
At tonight’s debate the candidates will all be asked to present their visions for France’s society, economy and the nation’s place in the world. The debate will take place in front of an audience of 400 people (each candidate is allowed to pack the crowd with 30 supporters) and the candidates will be arranged in a circle – all the better to maximise confrontation. The battle is expected to last at least two-and-a-half hours.
The debate will kick off with a softball question: “What kind of president do you want to be?” Each candidate has a maximum of 90 seconds to answer.