As everyone keeps saying, correctly of course, this French presidential election is a little bit bonkers.
Never before have four very different candidates gone into Sunday's first round with a realistic chance of qualifying for the crucial second round or as the French say “dans un mouchoir de poche” (all in a pocket handkerchief – neck and neck).
Some polls put the difference between all four candidates at just four percentage points.
So the fact that liberal progressive Emmanuel Macron, far right populist Marine Le Pen, conservative François Fillon and hard leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon are all in with a chance of facing off in the second round on May 7th means there are six very different scenarios that need to be considered.
Note that none of them involve the traditional left v right clash, because Socialist party candidate Benoit Hamon has fallen off his bike and is too far behind the peloton.
'Patriots vs globalists'
A face-off between the two frontrunners Marine Le Pen vs Emmanuel Macron is still just about the likeliest pairing in the run off vote, according to the latest polls.
This is the scenario Le Pen especially would choose to face and has already dubbed it “patriots vs globalists”. Expect her to play on this division.
Le Pen vs Macron is being seen as a battle between old France and new France, “resignation” vs “optimism”, a closed country vs an open one, protectionism vs globalisation, a “free and independent France” versus a France that is an integral part of Europe.
Macron says Le Pen wants to take France back to the 1950s while he wants to pull it into the 21st century.
Le Pen says “Islamism would be on the move” under a Macron presidency where as Macron accused Le Pen of making enemies out of France’s Muslim population.
Everywhere you look there are clear battle lines. While everyone has talked of undecided voters, there presumably wouldn’t be many if this pair went head to head.
There may be abstentions though. True leftists from Mélenchon and Hamon’s camp may not be able to bring themselves to vote for pro-business Macron. Hardcore Republican supporters will also find both candidates unappealing.
Who would win?
Emmanuel Macron should beat Le Pen hands down by 66 percent to 34 percent, according to a Harris Interactive poll.
Fillon would need to go into exile if he does not make the second round, considering he was a shoo-in just months ago.
The doomsday scenario
Just imagine the shock when at 8pm (or perhaps later, this year) on Sunday French TV stations broadcast the images of the two winners and it’s the face of hard left anti-EU, anti-globalisation Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s alongside the anti-EU, anti-globalisation figure of Marine Le Pen.
It would for many French voters, be the nearest thing to getting tasered. For those who work for the EU in Brussels it would more like getting tear gassed.
A battle between Mélenchon and Le Pen was described by former presidential favourite Alain Juppé as being like “the plague vs cholera”.
Macron supporting veteran centrist François Bayrou said the prospect was “terrifying for the country and for its image and its future.”
A “French Hugo Chavez” against a “French Donald Trump”.
There is talk of a Black Monday with the financial markets going into meltdown the day after the result is announced due mainly to fears over a Frexit and talk of an imminent mass exodus by French entrepreneurs.
With Le Pen wanting to pull France out of the euro and Mélenchon wanting to introduce a 32-hour work week and tax earnings over €400,000 by 100 percent, French business leader Pierre Gattaz said a run-off between the paid would force France to choose between “economic disaster and economic chaos.”
Edouard Lecerf from polling agency Kantar Public believes this pairing of the two anti-system is still the most unlikely scenario because it would mean the whole centre of French politics would be eliminated.
Who would win?
Polls suggest the far left Mélenchon would win fairly comfortably by around 60 percent to 40 percent.
Le Pen or Mélenchon because both would then struggle to get a majority in parliament, plus those twitchy investors.
But the real loser would of course be François Fillon, who would be “crucified”, as one party big wig put it. Macron might also want to try and get his old job back at the bank.
Fillon vs Macron
Marine Le Pen had, according to polls and experts, already booked her place in the second round two years ago, but she could yet have her reservation cancelled at the last minute, with Fillon taking her place against Macron.
Fillon wants a “total rupture” for France’s economy including scrapping 35-hour week, raising the retirement age to 65, scrapping 500,000 public service jobs and making €100 billion worth of spending cuts.
Macron wants a more Nordic system of so-called compassionate capitalism with business friendly policies to free up the labour market and cut unemployment but still guarantee protection for the worst off.
Fillon says Macron is François Hollande in disguise
At least investors would be happy that Le Pen and Mélenchon had not made it.
This face-off must also be seen in the context of the parliamentary elections. The uncertainty of Macron’s likely lack of majority vs the stability of a Republicans majority that Fillon wold likely benefit from.
Abstainers? Many Le Pen voters The Local spoke to recently said they would not vote for any other candidate if she did not make the second round. And again real leftists may choose to abstain given that two business friendly candidates are in the last two.
However most on the left, appalled by the scandals around Fillon and put off by his free market policies would be expected to opt for Macron.
Who would win:
Macron would beat Fillon by an even greater margin than Le Pen, polls say 68 percent to 32 percent.
Could Le Pen be ousted from the leadership of the National Front after somehow not making the second round?
Fillon vs Le Pen
This is the pairing that has been giving voters on the left sleepless nights ever since Fillon won November’s primary ahead of the more centrist Alain Juppé. For them it would be a reminder of the nightmare 2002 election when Jean-Marie Le Pen faced Jacques Chirac.
Fillon, the man who lives in a château and who allegedly employed his wife on a lucrative but fake role as a parliamentary assistant and then barely apologized when it became public, not to mention his desire to impose Thatcherite reforms on France versus, well, Marine Le Pen. Leftwing voters would be in need of counselling.
This is the scenario that most experts believe gives Marine Le Pen her greatest chance, albeit still an outside one, of victory. That's because many Macron, Melénchon and Hamon voters may decide they just can’t vote for either candidate. But don't be surprised if, like in 2002, they block a President Le Pen.
Le Pen’s team have said in the past that facing Fillon will be a little more complicated for them given that the Republicans candidate also promises voters a hard line on her core issues of immigration, identity, Islam and security.
Nevertheless as Kantar Public’s Lecerf points out there are still clear battle lines, notably on Europe and the single currency as well as their economic plan to rejuvenate France. For example Le Pen wants to lower retirement age, Fillon wants to raise it.
Who will win:
Polls say FIllon's only chance of second round victory would be against Le Pen (58 percent to 42 percent).
The French justice system given that both Le Pen and Fillon have investigations against them and of course anyone on the left.
Mélenchon vs Fillon
The latest polls suggest that these pair are still just about the outsiders, but they are the ones with the recent momentum. While Le Pen and Macron’s poll ratings have dipped slightly in the last month, Fillon and in particularly Jean-Luc Mélenchon have both gained ground. That momentum could continue until election day.
This battle would be fought on their economic programmes where they differ on pretty much everything, for a start Fillon wants to cut public spending by 100 billion over five years and Mélenchon wants to increase public spending by €173 billion over five years.
Perhaps the only thing they would agree on is their soft spot for Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin.
Who would win: Surprisingly polls say Mélenchon (58 percent to 42 percent) despite being considered the extremist, would come out on top against Fillon because he would sweep up the vote from the left as well as some anti-EU anti-system Le Pen voters.
That potential result will cause sleepless nights among those on the right, whose candidate Fillon was considered a shoo-in for the presidency just a few months ago.
Real loser: Le Pen would certainly come under pressure to quit if beaten by Mélenchon.
Macron vs Mélenchon
Could the right and far right really be eliminated from the second round? The French left, who feared annihilation not so long ago would be thrilled by this pairing. A battle between the traditional left and the modern business friendly left, it would be like another primary. Europe would be one of the main battlegrounds but also the economy.
The pair’s thoughts on divisive ride sharing company Uber sum the chasm that stands between them.
While Macron declared an Uber driver working up to 70 hours a week — one of the few jobs readily available to low-skilled suburban youths in France — had more “dignity” than someone without work, Melénchon blasted Uber as a “swindle” that offers work without social protection.
If Mélenchon did make the second round you would have to think that Hamon’s voters would go to him whereas the more centrist Fillon voters would switch to Macron. Many on the right would simply go on holiday for the long weekend, if not longer.
Who would win?
Macron would see off his rival fairly comfortably by 60 percent to 40 percent.
Le Pen and Fillon will both need to quit politics.