- Since becoming party leader in 2011, Le Pen has been on a drive to clean up the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front's (FN) racist image and re-position it as a party perceived as putting French interests first.
Paris, France | AFP |.A far-right leader praised by Donald Trump; a scandal-hit conservative; a 39-year-old former investment banker; and a leftwing radical who campaigns by hologram: here are the leading figures bidding to become France's next president.
- Marine Le Pen -
Since becoming party leader in 2011, Le Pen has been on a drive to clean up the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front's (FN) racist image and re-position it as a party perceived as putting French interests first.
Tipped to come first or second in the election's opening round, polls show the 48-year-old would however struggle to win a run-off against her main rival on May 7, where she would need to garner more than 50 percent.
The former lawyer and twice-divorced mother of three faces allegations of illegal campaign financing, expenses fraud and undervaluing her assets, but dismisses them as a plot to bar her path to power.
She has presented the election as a battle between the "patriots" ready to defend France and its values and "globalists" whose support for immigration and open borders she claims has caused economic and social calamity. Trump praised her on Friday as "the strongest on what's been going on in France."
- Emmanuel Macron -
The telegenic former investment banker hoping to become the youngest president in France's post-war history was an advisor to current Socialist President Francois Hollande and later became his economy minister.
The 39-year-old, a one-time philosopher's assistant, quit the government last year and launched his own centrist political movement, "En Marche" ("On the Move").
Polls show him running neck-and-neck with Le Pen in the first round and easily beating her in the run-off.
Macron has never stood for election before and has been accused of being short on substance, but he argues he can rejuvenate France with an unabashedly pro-European, pro-business platform.
- Francois Fillon -
Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's former prime minister is a political veteran who has spent a lifetime preparing for his shot at the Elysee Palace.
He was the clear frontrunner at the start of the year, but has been embroiled in scandal after scandal since January.
Fillon has been charged over accusations he paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros from public funds for a fictional job as his parliamentary assistant.
He also had to give back handmade suits given to him by a lawyer friend.
The 63-year-old devout Catholic wants to slash state spending and cut 500,000 public-sector jobs over the five-year presidential term.
Polls currently show him running third or fourth.
Communist-backed firebrand Melenchon has challenged the leaders in the campaign, employing fiery rhetoric, sharp wit and campaign appearances by hologram.
One of the harshest critics of Francois Hollande's presidency, he wants the EU to be revamped if France is to remain a member.
Melenchon, who came in fourth in the 2012 election behind Le Pen, wants to dump France's presidential system for a parliamentary system.
The 65-year-old nationalist promises a 100-billion-euro ($107-billion) stimulus package and a greener economy.
- Benoit Hamon -
The leftist rebel who quit the Socialist government in 2014 in protest at its policy of debt reduction was the surprise winner of January's Socialist primary.
The 49-year-old mild-mannered former education minister saw off ex-prime minister Manuel Valls with a staunchly leftist programme, including a steep increase in welfare spending.
Despite a lifetime in the Socialist Party, he has been deserted by many of its heavyweights who have switched their support to Macron. Polls show him running a distant fifth.
- Also running -
- Philippe Poutou, 50: A mechanic standing for the New Anti-Capitalist Party who came to national prominence fighting for jobs at a Ford factory.
- Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, 56: A staunch defender of French sovereignty who wants to ditch the euro. He won nearly 1.8 percent in 2012.
- Francois Asselineau, 59: Anti-American hard-right nationalist who is convinced the European Union is a CIA-backed plot.
- Nathalie Arthaud, 47: Economics teacher running for a Trotskyist party. She won 0.5 percent in 2012.
- Jacques Cheminade, 75: Veteran former civil servant who also ran in the 2012 presidential election.
- Jean Lassalle, 61: An MP from the Pyrenees region who regards himself as "a shepherd at the Elysee Palace", referring to the French president's residence.