Paris: Seven candidates, including ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy were confirmed Wednesday to contest the right-wing primary for France's presidential election next year, officials said.
Sarkozy's main rival will be popular former premier Alain Juppe, with the winner of November's two-round contest expected to be in the driving seat to become president next May.
Also in the running are former prime minister Francois Fillon, the sole woman candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, former ministers Jean-Francois Cope and Bruno Le Maire and Christian Democratic Party leader Jean-Frederic Poisson.
The primary will be held on 20 and 27 November.
With Socialist President Francois Hollande's deep unpopularity leaving the left in disarray, and the far-right National Front flagbearer Marine Le Pen riding high in the polls, the rightwing candidate is thought to stand a good chance of snatching the presidency in a runoff vote in May 2017.
Alain Juppe, 71, the current favourite in the primary race, is a former prime minister who is seen as a moderate, notably on immigration, and is campaigning as a unifier.
He is also a former foreign minister — under his arch-rival Nicolas Sarkozy as well as under the Socialist president Francois Mitterrand in a right-left "co-habitation" government.
Juppe returned from political exile after a party finance scandal that saw him convicted in 2004, winning back his long-time post as mayor of Bordeaux in 2006.
Now viewed as an elder statesman, he has become one of the country's most popular politicians two decades after his reform agenda sparked the largest social movement France had seen since May 1968.
Juppe pledges to achieve "full employment" for France and to pull the country out of "stagnation" by tapping its under-utilised strengths and boosting education.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 61, is one of the most divisive figures in French politics.
His tough talk on security and national identity has endeared him to many conservatives but made him a figure of hate on the left.
The son of a Hungarian immigrant father, Sarkozy was elected in 2007 on a promise to reform the ailing French economy.
But his taste for the high life soon cost him support, with voters casting him out after a single five-year term.
Two years later Sarkozy returned to head the opposition Republicans, a position he has used to try win back the presidency.
Since July's terror attack in Nice, he has gained ground on Juppe with a series of hardline proposals, including banning the burkini swimsuit and shutting away all those suspected of being radicalised in detention centres.
Prime minister throughout Sarkozy's 2007-12 presidency, Francois Fillon, now 62, became the youngest member of the French parliament at age 27 in 1981 and went on to hold several ministerial portfolios under Jacques Chirac.
He narrowly lost 2012 party elections to head the UMP, now the Republicans party, to Jean-Francois Cope, whom he accused of cheating.
Kicking off his premiership in 2007, Fillon said France was facing bankruptcy after decades of accumulated budget deficits, and he is calling again for a balanced budget.
Bruno Le Maire
Bruno Le Maire, 47, lost to Sarkozy in the 2014 contest to head the UMP. Agriculture minister under Sarkozy from 2009 to 2012, he has struggled to shake off an image as an over-educated technocrat.
Jean-Francois Cope, 52, was forced to resign as president of the UMP in June 2014 over a campaign finance scandal that is also dogging Sarkozy.
He was close to former president Jacques Chirac, under whom he was budget minister from 2004 to 2007, among other roles.
At 43, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet is the youngest candidate, and the only woman.
An outspoken maverick, she was sacked by Sarkozy as the Republicans' vice president in December 2015 after she criticised his leadership.
Known in France by her initials NKM, she made an unsuccessful bid to become Paris mayor in 2014.
The head of the Christian Democratic Party, 53-year-old Jean-Frederic Poisson also took a firm stand against gay marriage.