France went to vote on Sunday, 10 April. A two-round system is followed to elect the French president.
The two candidates who secure the maximum votes in the first round face each other in a run-off in the second round to win the presidency.
The second round takes place on 24 April.
In this election, in what would be a repeat of the 2017 French presidential election's run-off, President Emmanuel Macron would be facing off against far-right politician Marine Le Pen.
Macron finished with 27.6 percent of the total vote on Sunday, while Le Pen finished with 23.4 percent. The third placed candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the French Left, secured 22 percent of the vote, and immediately told his supporters, "You must not give a single vote to Marine Le Pen (in the run-off)."
What is it about Le Pen that makes her so polarising? In this article, we look at her career, her family, her ideology, and her campaign promises.
From Regional Councillor to Presidential Candidate
Born into a political family (discussed subsequently), Le Pen's career has been a long and eventful one.
She currently serves as the president of her party, the National Rally (until 2018 known as the National Front). She joined the party (founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen) in 1986, when she was only 18 years old.
In 1998, Le Pen was elected as the regional councillor for Nord-Pas-de-Calais. She also became the director of her party's legal affairs until 2003. She has an advanced degree in criminal law, and she previously worked as an attorney in Paris from 1992 to 1998.
In 2006, she took responsibility for the presidential campaign of her father and was appointed as one of the two executive vice-presidents of the National Front.
Le Pen soon expressed her desire to lead her party and on 16 January 2011, she was elected as the new president of the National Front in an intra-party election, with 67.65 percent of the vote.
The 2022 presidential election is her third attempt to win the presidency. In 2012, she could not make it to the run-off because she finished with 17.90 percent of the first round vote, placing her third.
Then, in 2017, she did make it to the run-off against Macron after finishing second in the first round. But she could secure only 34 percent of the second-round vote compared to the latter's 66 percent.
Le Pen has served as a member of the European Parliament for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017.
She has also served as the regional councillor of Nord-Pas-de-Calais (2010–2015), Île-de-France (2004–2010), and Hauts-de-France (2015–2021).
Le Pen's Ultra-Right Father
Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and the president of the National Front from 1972 to 2011.
Fun fact: She, as president of the party, expelled her father from the party in August 2015 (who was honorary president at the time of expulsion).
It was a product of not only a father-daughter feud, but also some of the inflammatory remarks that Jean-Marie Le Pen has made, hampering the popularity of the party with respect to its mainstream voter base.
One example of this is his characterisation of the Holocaust as a mere "detail" of the Second World War. The first time he expressed this opinion was in 1987.
In 1998, he was convicted of assaulting Socialist Party leader Annette Peulvast-Bergeal during a campaign and has even gone to tell Le Monde that the inequality of races "can't be disputed."
Le Pen, in order to rectify her party's image, has clarified that her father should "no longer be able to speak in the name of the National Front."
Then there's also her niece, Marion Maréchal (France's youngest parliamentarian in modern political history), who defected to Éric Zemmour's camp before the elections.
Zemmour is considered to be even more hardline than Le Pen with respect to right-wing policies. He, however, finished fourth in the first round with 7.1 percent of the vote.
Ideology & Campaign
Le Pen is considered to be a nationalist, but far less than her ultra-nationalist father.
She has tried to detoxify her party's image in the recent past. Nevertheless, she continues to hold certain beliefs regarding immigration, Islam, and the European Union.
Promising to halt immigrants from "abusing" the right to asylum, Le Pen wants to hold a referendum on restricting immigration.
This is still a milder campaign pitch compared to 2017 when she had said that "playtime is over" while referring to immigrants.
Her views on Islam are also considered extreme. She has for long linked immigration and militant Islamism.
During her campaign for the 2022 election, she has said that she wants to ban the hijab from being worn in public areas, calling it a "uniform of totalitarian ideology".
At the same time, at some point during her campaign, she famously clicked a selfie with a smiling Muslim teenager wearing a headscarf in Dunkirk, a clear tactic to present herself as more moderate than what she is made out to be.
Russia and Putin
On Russia, Le Pen is in an awkward position. In October 2014, her party borrowed €9 million from a Russian bank to fund local election campaigns.
She met Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 during the build-up to her election.
But she has condemned the invasion of Ukraine, while her party's ally, in one instance, aided Ukrainian refugees entering France. She would hope that her past links to Putin don't affect her current shot at the presidency.
On the economy, Le Pen's policies are more left-leaning and aimed at social welfare than they have ever been for her party.
She wants to scrap the income tax for workers under the age of 30, and she also wants to cut VAT on energy to 5.5 percent from 20 percent.
She says that she will spend 2 billion euros over 5 years to raise hospital workers' salaries and even recruit 10,000 of them. Teachers' salaries would rise by 15 percent over 5 years, according to her promises.
Le Pen wants to cut France's contributions to European Union. She is known for her anti-EU rhetoric, and has suggested in the past that France should drop the Euro as its national currency.
She also wants French law to prevail over EU rules, claiming that she would want to replace the EU with a "Europe of nations" (no plan has been laid out by her regarding this).
Le Pen also claims that she will, as president, employ thousands more customs agents to check EU goods entering France to tackle what she calls "fraud."