France stands at a political crossroads. Its direction of political travel, to be determined by voters in the presidential elections first round on 23 April and most likely a second round on 7 May, is a matter of concern to all of us.

Reflecting that, HOPE not hate is publishing this French Election Special to provide our supporters inside and outside the UK with vital background information produced by highly reliable analysts.

On 23 April, eleven candidates will stand, only four of whom, currently hovering at or close to 20% in the opinion polls, can be considered serious contenders.

The quartet numbers

Emmanuel Macron – former banker and Socialist minister – 22% in polls

Marine Le Pen – for the right-wing extremist Front National– 22% in polls

Jean-Luc Mélenchon – a former Socialist minister and candidate of the left-wing Unsubmissive France – 20% in poll

François Fillon – for the centre-right Republicans – 19% in polls

The first-round outcome will probably be very narrow and mirror the deep cleft within a French society mired in political crisis, enmeshed in gargantuan distrust of the establishment, entangled in economic difficulties and hit repeatedly by terrorism that not only kills lots of people but deepens ethnic and cultural divisions.

The likely second round run-off between Macron and Le Pen promises to be a bitter affair with Macron hopefully mopping up enough of the first round anti-Le Pen vote to trounce Le Pen.

That, at least, is how it looks but there are first round imponderables, not least the level of abstentions among the young in particular.

© Christoph Schrey

Ifop pollsters recently forecast that the intention to abstain has rocketed to a democratically corrosive 52% in the 18-25 age group. In all, the reputable Ipsos additionally suggests, the abstention rate could reach 34%, a low turnout seemingly helping Le Pen.

The defence of democracy against the encroachment of the extremist Le Pen can be guaranteed if French voters exercise democracy by going to the polling booths in record numbers to prevent their country from staring into the abyss.

We fervently hope they will.