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France election: Female challengers launch bids to become country’s first women president

Two politicians have thrown their hats into the ring in a bid to become France’s first woman president after next year’s election.

Paris’s socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo and Marine Le Pen of the far right National Rally have both formally launched their campaigns for the top job in widely expected declarations.

Ms Hidalgo, 62, who became the first woman to run the French capital in 2014, is the favourite to win the Socialist Party nomination.

She launched her candidacy in the northwestern Normandy city of Rouen.

However, polls indicate she has little chance of mounting a serious challenge unless she can unite the left, which remains deeply divided.

Ms Hidalgo is currently polling at about 8% voter support in April’s first round, while the centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and Ms Le Pen are notching up between 20% and 24%.

Announcing her bid, the 62-year-old said: “Knowing the seriousness of our times and to give hope to our lives, I have decided to be candidate for the French presidency.”

She has promised a greener economy, the re-industrialisation in old manufacturing heartlands and improvements in education.

As mayor of Paris, the Spanish-born politician has been praised for transforming the once traffic-congested banks of the river Seine into bustling promenades, for getting tough on polluting vehicles and creating new bike lanes during the COVID-19 crisis.

But while her profile has received a boost as Paris takes over as the host of the next Olympic Games, she remains a relative unknown outside the capital.

Party members will choose which candidate to put forward.

Ms Hidalgo’s only rival so far is former agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll.

But the left is fractured with former socialist economy minister Arnaud Montebourg announcing earlier this month he would run as an independent candidate.

The greens, who performed well in municipal elections last year, will also announce a runner in coming weeks.

In addition, two candidates from the far left have declared their intention to run.

Analysts say that any centre-left challenger will need to rally the greens and socialists behind a single ticket to challenge for a place in the second round run-off.

Meanwhile, Ms Le Pen, 53, started her campaign in the southern city of Frejus with a pledge to defend French “liberty”.

She made 26-year-old Jordan Bardella acting head of the party as she gears up for the presidential race.

Mr Macron, 43, has not yet announced his candidacy but is expected to do so.

Launching a candidacy in France is a necessary formality for each presidential election.

The poll is expected to come down to a contest between Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron, as it was last time in 2017.

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