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Wanted: Divided French left seeks presidential candidate

Joel Saget, AFP | Seven candidates are taking part in a presidential primary organised by the Socialist Party and its allies.

French leftists will hold a first-round primary on Sunday to narrow the field of possible presidential candidates. Whoever emerges the winner, however, is likely to face a resounding defeat by France's conservatives in April-May elections.


With the ruling Socialists plummeting in popularity, the French left is bitterly divided. President François Hollande’s approval rating sank to a low of 4 percent late last year, largely on his failure to boost the economy and lower an unemployment rate that continues to hover near 10 percent.

Against this backdrop it seems unlikely that any leftist candidate will advance beyond the April 23 first round of the presidential election. Most polls predict that conservative François Fillon of Les Républicains party and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen will face off in the May 7 second round.

Nevertheless, left-wing voters on Sunday will choose between seven candidates in a primary organised by the ruling Socialists. The winner and runner-up will then compete in a January 29 run-off to decide who will represent the leftists in the presidential vote.

Campaigning is likely to focus on France’s centrists and the moderate left, a vast electorate that includes factory workers, shopkeepers and Paris professional elites.

Socialist ex-prime minister Manuel Valls, 54, is looking to lure centrists as well as the party’s more conservative members. As Hollande’s interior minister, Spanish-born Valls became known as the Socialists’ own right wing. He went on to take a hard line on dismantling Roma camps in Paris and threatened to ban the protests that erupted after he pushed through Hollande’s controversial labour reforms.

Arnaud Montebourg has only stepped up his criticism of the Socialist administration since being asked to resign as economy minister in 2014, claiming Hollande’s government has betrayed the hopes and aspirations of the left. An advocate of protectionist policies and a strong state, the 54-year-old has proposed reserving 80 percent of all public contracts for French businesses, in contravention of EU rules.

Benoît Hamon, 49, has placed social and environmental issues at the heart of his platform, proposing a universal basic income to be financed through an overhaul of France’s tax system. Hamon says the digital age calls for a new social model in which the shrinking workload is spread out more evenly across society, allowing people more leisure time.

France's battered Socialists make last pitch to voters in primary debate

Former education minister Vincent Peillon, 56, has positioned himself as a moderate, consensus-building reformist. At a time of jingoistic patriotism and widespread EU-bashing, he has struck a rare Europhile note by calling for a “European New Deal” built around harmonised tax laws, shared social rights and a common eurozone budget aimed at stimulating growth.

Ecologist Party candidate François de Rugy, 43, the deputy head of France’s National Assembly, casts himself as a pragmatic reformist. He has called for a gradual transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and an end to all carbon-emitting transport by 2025. Other proposals include legalising euthanasia and making it compulsory to vote in national elections.

Sylvia Pinel’s last-minute decision to take part in the primary spared the left the embarrassment of having an all-male competition. The 39-year-old's Radical Party has put together a business-friendly platform that includes slashing corporate taxes and giving companies fiscal incentives to offer employees long-term contracts.

Jean-Luc Bennahmias, 62, of the Democratic Front party also plans to introduce some kind of universal basic income and advocates a total transition to renewable energy and sustainable farming, as well as the legalisation of cannabis.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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