The presidential election of France is just over a week away. President Emmanuel Macron of the 'La République en Marche!' is contesting to retain his post, and he will face challenges from Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Valérie Pécresse, and Éric Zemmour among seven others.
The election, held every five years, follows a two-round system, and any French adult who is at least 18 years of age is eligible to vote.
This year, the first round will be held on 10 April and the second on 24 April.
How does this system work? Who are the candidates, and what do they stand for? Here's a primer.
How the System Works
The two-round electoral system that is used in France is not very common in western Europe. Only Portugal has the same system, while certain countries in eastern Europe also use it.
According to the rules, all the candidates will compete in the first round as the people vote for their favourite.
If an absolute majority (more than 50 percent of the total vote) is not won by one candidate, then there is a second round, a run off, between the top two candidates of the first round.
Naturally, if a candidate wins more than half the votes in the first round, then they become the president, and the run-off round is not required.
Such a case, however, has never happened in the history of France's Fifth Republic.
Therefore, the two highest-scoring candidates in round one go head to head against each other as voters set out to choose again, and the candidate with the higher number of votes wins.
The number of candidates who will try to unseat Macron in April are 11. We take a look at four of them who can influence the elections decisively based on the recent polls.
But first, a glance at the president himself.
Emmanuel Macron (La République en Marche!)
Macron became the youngest ever French president in 2017, beating Marine Le Pen with 66.1 percent of the vote in the second round.
Before becoming president, he was the Minister of Economy and Finance under President François Hollande.
The politically centrist candidate of La République en Marche (The Republic on the Move), a party he founded in 2016, is expected to win the election, based on the latest polling.
His efforts to rejuvenate the economy, which was left battered by COVID-19, have boosted his ratings.
He has signed tough but controversial security laws to combat terrorism, like the 2017 anti-terror legislation that gave security services sweeping powers to shut down places of worship suspected of extremist activity.
The law also allowed the police to detain people suspected of terrorism and search their homes without a court warrant.
Macron's statement on leading a coordinated response on behalf of the European Union (EU) against the "irregular migratory flows" from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover also sparked outrage.
However, with respect to the war in Ukraine, he has been extremely active in mediating between Kyiv and Moscow, something that has helped his ratings.
Among other campaign promises, he wants to increase the retirement age from 62 to 65 and cut taxes by 15 billion euros per year.
He wants to invest heavily in agriculture, build more nuclear reactors, and strengthen the army.
Opinion polls show that he is likely to win more than 30 percent of the vote in the first round.
Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National)
In the 2017 elections, Marine Le Pen was the runner-up, losing to Macron in the second round.
This will be her third attempt for the presidency. The polls say that she is most likely among other candidates to make it to round two along with the sitting president.
The far-right Le Pen family has been politically active in France for decades, leading the Rassemblement National (National Rally) party. Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, chaired the party between 1972 and 2011 after which his daughter took over.
She has been consistently anti-immigration and anti-EU, but is now wooing voters regarding the economy as well, due to a spike in France's energy prices and housing costs.
Le Pen has toned down her right-wing rhetoric, which has led to some of her usual base drifting towards Eric Zemmour (discussed subsequently).
In fact, some of her own campaign team members have defected to Zemmour's camp, including her own niece Marion Maréchal.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise)
A vocal critic of Macron's economic policies, 70-year-old Mélenchon is the most prominent leader of the French far-left.
According to the polls, he is only a little behind Le Pen, and his unapologetic left-wing campaign has given him shocking success in a country whose politics is dominated by right-wing talking points like security, immigration, and terrorism.
The La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) founder has promised to impose price controls on some basic necessities.
In sharp contrast to the president, Mélenchon wants to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60, raise taxes on the rich, and bring back a wealth tax that Macron did away with.
Additionally, he wants to introduce a minimum wage of 1,400 euros per month.
His pro-Russian comments before the invasion of Ukraine, however, landed him in the soup, with other parties on the French Left questioning his capability to form a strong government.
Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains)
Describing herself as "one-third Margaret Thatcher and two-thirds Angela Merkel", Valérie Pécresse served as the minister for higher education and then for the budget during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.
The candidate from Les Républicains (The Republicans) has been serving as the president of the Regional Council of Île-de-France since 2015, and her pro-EU and centrist views have wooed a small chunk of Macron's voter base.
She wants to end the 35-hour workweek, and give workers the right to negotiate working hours. Additionally, she wants to sell off the state's minority stakes in private companies.
Pécresse wants a strong and unified Europe that can stand up to China and Russia.
On issues like immigration, her stance remains right-wing, with her having once claimed that she won't object to a "barbed wire" to keep migrants out. She has also promised to deal with radical Islam.
According to the latest polls, she is tipped to finish between third and fifth places in the first round, despite early numbers putting her second only to Macron in December last year when was chosen as Les Républicains' presidential candidate.
Éric Zemmour (Reconquête)
Another prominent candidate is Éric Zemmour, a journalist, author, and TV commentator with no prior experience in elections.
The party he founded, Reconquête (Reconquest) is just about four months old.
Zemmour's numbers in the polls had initially been quite high, given his hypernationalism and anti-Immigration rhetoric, considered even harsher than Marine Le Pen's.
In fact, a French court in January found him guilty of racist hate and fined him 10,000 euros.
Zemmour wants to deport 1,00,000 immigrants each year, especially to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, something which even Le Pen has said is "anti-republican."
Zemmour also wants to ban the hijab in all public spaces (the current rules only disallow full-face veils like niqabs).
His lack of discourse on economic issues and his admiration of Putin (in 2018, he said he dreamed of a French Putin to become president) have brought down his ratings.
He is not expected to make it to the run-off, finishing either fourth or fifth in the first-round, according to the latest polls.