The far-right National Rally's Marine Le Pen and Paris's Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo launched their campaigns on Sunday to challenge Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming presidential elections.
The election race is starting to heat up as both Le Pen and Hidalgo seek to break new ground by becoming France’s first female president after two rounds of voting in April next year.
The two women joined a growing list of challengers to President Emmanuel Macron and have started to gain popularity through their campaign pledges.
Although it is difficult to predict who will emerge victorious, these two potential candidates are currently leading the pack.
The far-right National Rally's Marine Le Pen
The 53-year-old far-right leader kicked off her campaign in the southern city of Frejus with her typically anti-migrant views promising to impose harsh measures in certain parts of France which she described as 'Talibanised'.
Le Pen vows to defend individual liberties and strives to capitalise on the backlash against Macron's vaccine mandate policy, which requires people to show evidence of vaccination, a negative PCR test or recovery from Covid-19 before being granted access to certain spaces like restaurants, bars and other indoor venues.
However, she hasn’t taken a strict anti-vaccination stance so as not to alienate pro-vaccine sections of the country by saying: “We’re not against vaccines but, we believe in vaccine freedom - everyone should be able to choose for themselves.”
Intriguingly, Le Pen has altered her image slightly in this election period. She has been wearing light blue instead of her signature dark blue style to showcase a less partisan and rigid vision. The hope is that she can appeal to a moderate voter base, according to her special councillor Philippe Olivier.
She temporarily handed over the party's leadership to Jordan Bardella, spokesman of the National Rally, while she is on the campaign trail.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo
Meanwhile, Hidalgo announced her candidacy in the Normandy city of Rouen, invoking her Hispanic roots and her family’s immigrant status.
She became the first woman to govern the French capital, Paris, back in 2014. And now, she is the favourite to win the Socialist Party nomination.
Her family came to France from Spain fleeing General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship with the hope of finding opportunity and freedom when she was two.
“I want all children in France to have the same opportunities I had,” the 62-year-old candidate said impling an increase in inequality.
As a working-class woman, she prioritises repairing divisions in society and gaining back the support of blue collar workers disenchanted with the left.
Her campaign goals involve greener energy initiatives, the re-industrialisation of France by bringing back factories moved abroad, raising salaries and improving education. She spent her summer visiting small towns and villages across the country to broaden her Parisian reputation.
As mayor, Hidalgo has won general praise for transforming the River Seine's traffic jam into bustling promenades, enforcing strict regulations on polluting vehicles and constructing new bike lanes during Covid-19 pandemic.
But it is unclear whether her initiatives and goals can carry her to the final stage of the elections.
Although Hidalgo is assumed to win her party's support in internal voting, she faces a critical challenge due to divisions within the left. The French left is fragmented into seven various parties with their own potential candidates. This means there’s a split in the vote bloc and might yield just 7-8 percent of the votes for Hidalgo.
It is a low rate to get a free pass for the final round of the election compared to Macron and Le Pen’s results, according to a recent poll.
Macron has not yet announced his reelection bid but made some remarks similar to a campaign pledge in Marseille on September 2.
During his 3-day visit, he promised the city's reconstruction with a total of 1.5 billion euros (1.7 billion dollars) financial aid, including 500 million (590 million dollars) for schools and social facilities, and 1 billion (1.18 billion dollars) for transport and infrastructure.
For now, current polls suggest the elections might turn out to be a rerun of the 2017 race between Le Pen and Macron. But for Hidalgo, nothing is clear yet. She argues that in Paris, she has always proved polls wrong.