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French centre-right rivals face off in final primary debate

Eric Feferberg / AFP | The candidates for the right-wing Les Républicains attend the second televised primary debate on November 3, 2016 in Paris.

Just days ahead of the opening round of France’s conservative party primary on Sunday, contenders for the centre-right presidential candidacy are participating in Thursday night’s final televised debate.


Seven candidates, including former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, are vying for the party’s ticket to run for the 2017 presidential election.

Sarkozy has been campaigning on a hardline law-and-order platform, while Juppé, an experienced politician and mayor of Bordeaux, has been consistently leading in the polls.

The race for the Les Républicains party nomination was widely viewed as a two-man race between Sarkozy and Juppé. However in recent days, another former French prime minister, François Fillon, enjoyed a sudden spike in the poll ratings.

An OpinionWay survey published Tuesday showed Fillon, who had been languishing in a distant third place, taking 25 percent of likely voters, putting him neck and neck with his former boss Sarkozy.

Similarly, an Ifop-Fiducial poll for Sud Radio released Thursday saw Fillon getting 27 percent of votes in Sunday’s first round, versus 31 percent for Juppé and 30 percent for Sarkozy.

However a poll by Cevipof and Ipsos-Sopra Steria published Thursday showed Juppé scoring 36 percent of votes in Sunday's opening round of the Les Republicains party primary, with Sarkozy, at 29 percent, qualifying for a runoff against Juppé a week later.

Under the rules, the primary heads for a second round on November 27 if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on Sunday.

The left as a spent force

Juppé is also favoured to win the presidential election in May 2017, in a likely second-round runoff against far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

The Cevipof poll confirmed the widely held expectation that the left would be eliminated as a real force in the 2017 poll with Le Pen making it to the second round against a centre-right opponent.

The winner of November’s primaries will therefore be the favourite to become French president next year, given the weakness of the ruling Socialists and the record unpopularity of current President François Hollande, who has yet to declare whether he will run for a second term in office.

While the 71-year-old Juppé remains the poll favourite both for the primary and the presidential election itself, Donald Trump's surprise victory in the US presidential election has jolted what once looked like a cakewalk for Juppé.

Fillon's late surge has added to the uncertainty.

To add to uncertainty, Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker who was Hollande’s economy minister until August 2016, also announced his candidacy on Wednesday. Although Macron is among France's most popular politicians, the 38-year-old, who will stand as an independent, does not hold elected office and has no party apparatus behind him.

And while he has yet to set out his policies in any detail, he is widely seen as the candidate most likely to take votes from conservative Juppé in a presidential election.

For Fillon, Macron’s announcement on Wednesday was the final nail in the coffin of Hollande’s presidency.

“This is an important date, remember it,” Fillon said. "Not only is Hollande failing on all fronts, but he has also lost the one man (Macron) who was closest to him and was the architect of his economic programme. Hollande’s authority is finished."

But he said Macron was unlikely to be successful. “I firmly believe that the French will not trust their national destiny to someone with no experience of elected office and who has said nothing about his plan to run the country."


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