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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-16

Left-wing presidential hopefuls faced off in a televised debate Thursday night, with Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry in need of a strong showing to close the gap on frontrunner François Hollande ahead of next month's primary vote.

AFP - The six French Socialist leaders battling for the right to stand against Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential elections went head-to-head in a television debate Thursday.

The high-profile debate came a month before the party, which has not won a presidential election since 1988, holds US-style primaries to pick a candidate for the vote to be held next April and May.

The debate aimed to inject momentum into a campaign that suffered a major setback when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist whom polls early this year said would easily defeat Sarkozy, got caught up in a sordid sex scandal in New York.

Segolene Royal, who was the party's candidate against Sarkozy in 2007, last week launched a personal attack on the favourite Francois Hollande, her ex-partner and father of her four children, by claiming he achieved nothing in a 30-year political career.

But on Thursday's programme the six contenders from the party that has spent years engaged in bitter in-fighting were careful to avoid lambasting each other.

They sought instead to show that despite differing approaches they were united in their aim of ousting Sarkozy, who has had abysmal poll ratings for most of his mandate.

"The only thing that matters" is making sure that the Socialists take power in 2012, said Hollande, who was given a clear lead in a poll published Tuesday in the left-wing daily Liberation.

It said 40 percent of left-wing sympathisers would vote for Hollande, a former party leader, who said Thursday he planned to restore 60,000 education sector jobs slashed by Sarkozy.

Just 22 percent plumped for current party leader Martine Aubry, the architect of France's 35-hour week, the survey said.

"My priorities are yours: employment, spending power, education and security," said Aubry, who got a 22 percent rating in the Liberation poll which put Royal in third place.

The debate was overshadowed in the French media Thursday by Sarkozy's visit to Libya, where the French president got a hero's welcome for his key role in backing the rebels who ousted strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

The Socialists battled on regardless, focusing their debate on the sovereign debt crisis that threatens the future of the European single currency, financial regulation, the banking crisis, unemployment, and social justice.

The primary candidates, who all agreed Sarkozy's rule was disastrous for France, each stood behind their own pulpit, close together and in a semi-circle as they spelled out how they planned to solve the country's myriad problems.

The debate on the France 2 channel kicked off with each candidate speaking for one minute to explain why he or she should be elected. Then each got 10 minutes to answer questions from political journalists.

Following that the candidates engaged in a debate orchestrated by David Pujadas, one of France's top television news anchors, whose occasional attempts to set the candidates against each other were rebuffed.

The resolutely left-wing Arnaud Montebourg, who likes to rail against globalisation, called for banks to be placed under state control and for rents to be frozen.

Manuel Valls, on the right of the Socialist primary, said it was important not to promise wage increases until French economic growth was back on track. Jean-Michel Baylet, the leader of the small Socialist-allied Radical Party of the Left and a primary candidate, called for cannabis and euthanasia to be legalised.

Next month's primary will not be limited to members of the Socialist Party (PS), as was the case ahead of the last presidential vote in 2007.

Any French citizen who declares that he or she is committed to left-wing ideals and hands over a euro can take part.

The right-wing Sarkozy has not officially declared that he will run for a second mandate in next year's vote, but few doubt it.

Date created : 2011-09-15


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