in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday. Here's who they are:
Hollande, 57, is the front-runner in all opinion polls ahead of the election. Leader of the Socialist Party from 1997 to 2008, he's a career politician who has built his reputation as a manager and consensus-builder more than a visionary. He has tried to overcome his image as wishy-washy and too nice to make tough decisions. Benefiting from a large anti-Sarkozy sentiment, Hollande has campaigned on a leftist platform that takes aim at the wealthy, labeling the world of finance as his "real adversary" in the election. He was the longtime partner of 2007 presidential runner-up Segolene Royal, with whom he raised four children.
Sarkozy, also 57, is a frank and divisive leader who has disappointed many of his supporters since his election in 2007. He sent warplanes to Libya against Moammar Gadhafi and improved relations with the United States and Israel. He also raised the retirement age and limited the power of France's frequent strikes, but European partners and ratings agencies say he's been too cautious about cutting France's big deficit. Opponents blanch at his attacks on immigrants — he's the son of a Hungarian immigrant himself — and on Muslim practices, such as the ban on Islamic face veils and digs about halal meat. Tabloids loved his whirlwind romance with former supermodel wife Carla Bruni just months after he divorced in office, but voters felt alienated. They're still angry that he celebrated his 2007 victory on a billionaire friend's yacht.
MARINE LE PEN
Le Pen, 43, took over the leadership of the far-right National Front party last year, replacing her charismatic father Jean-Marie Le Pen. Polls generally show her in third place. Le Pen has revived the National Front's prospects by sugarcoating the anti-immigrant message of her father, a convicted racist and anti-Semite. A divorced mother of three, Marine Le Pen has eaten into Sarkozy's support and his aides have borrowed some of her anti-Muslim rhetoric. Even if her chances at the presidency are slim, Le Pen hopes a strong showing will allow the National Front to gain a parliamentary presence for the first time since 1986 and have a say in setting the national agenda.
Melenchon, 60, is a charismatic co-president of the Left Front party who has been a surprise star of this campaign with his rousing rallies calling for a new leftist revolution. Melenchon was elected to the European Parliament in 2009 and was twice a French senator. His one stint in government came as deputy minister for vocational education in 2000-2002. He was passed over to head the Socialist Party in 1997 by Francois Hollande. His campaign platform is built around rejecting austerity measures, and polls put him in fourth place.
Bayrou, 60, is a center-right politician who finished third in the last presidential election in 2007. Bayrou, a father of six, is the son of a farmer who stresses his rural, Catholic roots. First elected to parliament in 1986, Bayrou was education minister from 1993 to 1997 under right-wing governments. The latest polls show Bayrou in fifth place. He's built his campaign around themes of industry, education and citizenship, and his middle-ground voters may be crucial to deciding the runoff.
The remaining candidates are only expected to get a small percent of votes each:
Joly, 68, made her name as a corruption-busting investigative judge, tracking down and jailing some of the biggest names in French politics and business. Leftist environmental movement Europe Ecologie-Les Verts nominated her as its presidential candidate last year but environmental issues are low on the overall campaign agenda. She caused a stir with her first campaign pledge: to scrap France's traditional Bastille Day military parade. Joly left her native Norway and moved to France as a teenage au pair.
Dupont-Aignan, 51, describes himself as a Gaullist who leads the Rise Up Republic party. He rails against bankers and companies who move jobs overseas. He wants France out of NATO's military command, more class time spent teaching children French, and tougher laws for financial crimes.
Arthaud, 42, represents the Trotskyist Workers' Struggle party and would redistribute wealth and jobs. She says big companies should subsidize small ones and that private property should expropriated when necessary.
Poutou, 45, is an autoworker from the New Anticapitalist Party. He would ban all layoffs, stop paying off France's debts, and reduce the workweek to 32 hours.
Cheminade, 61, has no party affiliation but an anti-capitalist bent. "A World Without the City or Wall Street" reads his election brochure. He wants more progress in nuclear technology and space exploration.