Here’s all you need to know about the French election

France needs to distinguish between being euro-sceptic and euro-phobic: Analyst
France needs to distinguish between being euro-sceptic and euro-phobic: Analyst

The world is currently focused on France where voters are heading to the polls Sunday to choose their next president. Ahead of vote, which is being described as the most uncertain election ever in French politics, here's a look at the key details.

Why is this election important?

France is the second-largest economy in the euro zone and one of the seven biggest across the world. Its president holds enough powers to influence the country's economic and political path.

Furthermore, this election takes place at a time when the French people are increasingly concerned on security matters, after several terrorist attacks across the country, and disenchanted with high levels of unemployment and poor economic performance since the 2008 crisis. The candidates' proposals show that whatever the outcome this election will not only shape the future of France, but also of the European Union.

"As two candidates to the French presidential election expressed their desire to work on a 'Frexit' once elected, these elections have of course implications beyond French borders," Vincent Juvyns, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC via email.

Anne-Christine Poujoulat | AFP | Getty Images

"Though the legislative hurdles to get to a 'Frexit' are high, one can at this stage not say that it is impossible. In such a situation, the European project would definitely be at risk, the volatility would increase on financial markets and we could get in a situation at least similar to the European debt crisis of 2012," he added.

For the first time in 15 years, the far right has realistic chances of getting into power. This is also the first time in modern France when the incumbent president hasn't run for a second term.

How many candidates are running?

There are 11 candidates running, of which four make up the list of frontrunners. A poll released by Elabe on Friday morning showed the centrist and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron winning the first round with 24 percent of the votes, closely followed by the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen with 21.5 percent of the support. The conservative candidate Francois Fillon placed third with 20 percent and the member of the far left Jean-Luc Melenchon came fourth with 19.5 percent.

All polls have shown that this election is too close to call.

Why are there two rounds of voting?

France use the two-round voting system. A leader can be elected this Sunday if they win an outright majority but the polls suggest that this is unlikely. As a result, a run-off between the two leading candidates is expected and is scheduled for May 7.

When will we know the results?

Polling stations are due to close between 7 p.m. Paris time (8 p.m. for the big cities) on Sunday. Preliminary results are expected around 9 p.m. Paris time, slightly later than usual as the close race is expected to complicate and delay the results. In recent history, France has never had a race that was too close to call, with the two leading candidates usually being pretty clear.

"This is a four way race with the potential for the numbers to be quite close to one another. In the previous elections exit polls have over/under estimated the candidates by up to +-2 percent either way. They correct themselves as the night progresses and typically by 9:30 pm (London time) they are more confident as to the results," Nomura noted in a research note on Thursday.

What happens after the runoff?

With the run-off schedule for May 7, it is expected that a new president will be formally confirmed by May 11. "The official investiture of the new president will take place on the Sunday 14 May at the latest," Juvyns from JPMorgan said.

He added that the formation of the next government will depend on who's elected. "In the case of Francois Fillon or Emmanuel Macron, they should in theory be able to form a rather stable government as they have a wide - direct or indirect - support in both houses. For Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, it could be more challenging given there is low support in the lower and upper house and also because the legislative elections in June could oblige them to work with other political parties in their governments which would be less likely for Fillon or Macron."

French voters unlikely to be deterred by suspected terror attack
French voters unlikely to be deterred by suspected terror attack

How will markets react on Sunday?

"We think it will probably need both Le Pen and Melenchon to get through to the second round to do the euro any significant harm," United Overseas Bank said in a note on Friday morning.

The worst case for markets would be if the far right and the far left made it to the second round and UOB believes there's only about a 25 percent chance for such a scenario. However, the analysts said it would mean a much lower EUR/USD, with risk of breaking below the year to-date-low of 1.0340.

If polls prove to be right and Macron and Le Pen make it to the run-off, "EUR/USD could retest the 1.09-figure, though we don't see the pair trading significantly higher," the bank said.

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