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'Third man' rocks boat in French Socialist primaries

Unexpectedly coming in third, Arnaud Montebourg holds many of the cards that will decide the second round of the French Socialist Party’s primaries, a battle between centrist François Hollande and left-leaning Martine Aubry.

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An unexpected wildcard has been thrown into the battle for the French Socialist Party (PS) presidential nomination - in the form of anti-globalisation candidate Arnaud Montebourg.

Montebourg came third with 17% in Sunday’s US-style primaries, after favourite François Hollande (39%) and the PS First Secretary Martine Aubry (30%).

Already ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the polls, left-of-centre Hollande had been looking for a clear mandate ahead of next year’s presidential elections, which France’s socialists have continually lost since 1988.

But with none of the candidates taking more than 50% of the vote, the primaries will go to a second round next weekend.

The rise of Montebourg

Montebourg’s result was particularly surprising as only one month ago polls gave him just 5% of the vote, according to Jean-Marc Lech, director of international polling and research company IPSOS.

Montebourg is standing on a far-left anti-globalisation platform. He has also called for the state to take greater ownership of banks and wants crackdowns on tax havens.

“Just in the last week his poll rating went up to 11%,” Lech told France 24 on Monday. “And then he took to the stage with Martine Aubry [who is closer to him politically] last week. He has a political style that the French like, and he has policies that appeal to the far left of the Socialist Party.”

According to FRANCE 24 Political Editor Roselyn Febvre, Hollande is the last person to whom Montebourg would lend his support as their political differences are complemented by a mutual dislike.

Wake-up call for Hollande

The result has been a huge humiliation for former presidential candidate Segolene Royal – but also a wake-up call for Hollande, whom Lech said was “resting on his laurels”.

“Hollande has made the big mistake of behaving like he has already won next year’s presidential election,” said Lech, adding that Royal (7%) was “spouting the same old lines as she did back in 2007”.

“Montebourg’s success is going to be a big headache for Hollande, because his supporters will naturally switch to Aubry.

“Hollande needs to be seen to embrace and embody the values of the left, and to show that Aubry is yet another unelectable Socialist candidate. And he only has a week to do it.”

Hollande is likely to count on the support of the 5% who voted for the more centrist Manuel Valls, and will look to scoop the 7% who voted for his previous partner and the failed 2007 election candidate Segolene Royal.

On Monday Hollande told RTL radio that he expects to win next weekend’s runoff vote “by a small margin”.

Sarkozy’s UMP to hold primaries in future?

Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party is keeping a close eye on the primaries, with commentators suggesting that the high turnout and the boost they are giving to the PS could be shared across the political spectrum.

UMP Member of Parliament Jacques Myard told FRANCE 24 on Monday that nothing could be ruled out for the following elections in 2017.

“What is certain is that we are seeing a new way of doing politics that seems, for the moment, to be working," he said. "We will have to see how the second round plays out, however, and I think we are likely to see many more divisions appear between the two main candidates.”

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