Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron go head to head on in a TV debate seen as the climax of a long and bitter campaign for France’s presidential election.
The aim for centrist Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen is to win the votes of large numbers of undecided or reluctant voters.
While Emmanuel Macron is well ahead in the polls, his lead has narrowed and an estimated 18% of voters are undecided.
For the first time, neither candidate is from a mainstream French party.
Although Marine Le Pen’s father qualified in 2002 for the run-off as head of her party, the National Front (FN), his rival and eventual winner, Jacques Chirac, refused to take part in a debate because of the FN leader’s extremist views.
Both candidates have limited their campaigning in recent days in preparation for the debate, set for 21:00 on May 3 and due to last two hours 20 minutes.
There have been TV debates ahead of the first round but so far the two main candidates have not sparred face to face. And this is being billed as the moment of truth, on the two biggest TV channels in front of some 20 million French viewers.
All the big campaign themes will be tackled, from France’s 10% unemployment rate and the economy to security, health policy and the EU.
For Marine Le Pen it is her big chance to land some blows and make up ground by exposing her 39-year-old rival’s relative inexperience.
Emmanuel Macron as favorite arguably has most to lose.
The French debate is not similar to the US presidential debate where the candidates stand behind lecterns. This is a direct confrontation.
The two candidates will sit at a big desk, Marine Le Pen on the left, Emmanuel Macron on the right. The presidential debate is a tried and tested event in France, going back to 1974.
The two moderators, Nathalie Saint-Cricq and Christophe Jakubyszyn are heavyweight political journalists, but not the big TV presenters France is used to. That is because the candidates objected to the initial choices.
The temperature will be regulated at 19C to keep the candidates cool.
The debate is must-see TV for French voters but there could be a battle over the remote.
AS Monaco go head to head against Juventus 15 minutes before the debate starts in the semi-final of the Champions League, in a match broadcast on pay TV.
Marine Le Pen’s campaign is based on a patriotic “Choose France” slogan. According to her, she is the real thing, and her rival is an impostor backed up by the old guard of French politics.
Her supporters leapt on a rumor on May 2 that Emmanuel Macron was threatening to walk out of the debate if she started using him as a “punching-ball”.
Marine Le Pen tweeted: “If Mr. Macron doesn’t feel comfortable he can always ask [President] François Hollande to come and hold his hand, I won’t stand in his way.”
However, to convince voters wary of a far-right leader she may project a softer image too, while her opponent will need to show a firm streak.
Emmanuel Macron’s aim is to seek the moral high ground by showing that he has authentic policies while his rival’s ideas are simplistic and dangerous for France.
“I want to go head-to-head, to get to the bottom of the issues, to show that these are false solutions,” he said on May 2.