PARIS, Mar 20 (KUNA) -- Five of France's leading candidates who will take part in the forthcoming first round of the presidential election on April 23 are holding a live debate Monday on national television to air their positions and differences on many topics.
Top two candidates, centrist and former investment banker and minister, Emmanuel Macron, are expected to joust with his leading rival, far-right National Front leader Marine le Pen, as the two look likely to qualify for a run-off round to decide the winner on May 7.
Other participants include Republican conservative Francois Fillon, who has fallen from grace in the polls because he is mired in a corruption scandal involving "fake jobs" he allegedly gave to his wife and children, and he is under scrutiny for other potential financial improprieties.
Fillon, who last January was the leading candidate to win the presidency, has now fallen back into third place and seems unlikely to be able to qualify for the May run-off, although there remain many weeks to go in the race and Le Pen is also under judicial scrutiny for alleged financial fraud involving the European Parliament.
Socialist party contender Benoit Hamon is also in the debate, but the Socialists have suffered low popularity in line with the dissatisfaction with the Presidency of Francois Hollande and the politics of his Socialist government.
The fifth contender in the debate is Jean-Luc Melenchon, a radical left fire-brand, who is calling for an overhaul of the political system, is very unlikely to get majority support.
As it stands, Macron and Le Pen are neck-and-neck in polls for the first round, with about 26 percent of voting intentions, each. Fillon is a distant third with between 18-20 percent, Hamon is around 14 percent and Melenchon is around 10 percent.
If these scores hold, Macron will face Le Pen in the second round on May 7, as the 39-year-old centrist is tipped to win and could very well become the youngest president ever to hold office in France. (end)