Paris – France’s tumultuous presidential election battle steps up a gear Monday as the main candidates face off in the first of several TV debates, gunning for every vote with just a month to go.

In France’s most unpredictable election in years, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron have been running neck-and-neck for weeks, with the latest opinion poll showing the centrist just half a percentage point ahead for the first round of voting on April 23.

Monday’s debate will be an unprecedented chance for French voters to compare candidates before the first round as the frontrunners will share the stage with trailing candidates Francois Fillon of the right and Benoit Hamon of the left, along with the far left Jean-Luc Melenchon.

All 11 contenders, spanning the spectrum from Trotskyist left to the far right, will take part in another debate on April 4.

Advisors to 48-year-old Le Pen, who polls show would lose to Macron in the May 7 run-off if the election were held today, said she would tear into the “globalist” programme of her pro-EU rival.

© AFP VALERY HACHE Sparring images: French presidential candidates (from left) Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron will be seeking to paint themselves as leadership material in their first TV debate on Monday

© AFP VALERY HACHE – Sparring images: French presidential candidates (from left) Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron will be seeking to paint themselves as leadership material in their first TV debate on Monday