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How ‘moderniser’ Hamon and ‘tough man’ Valls plan to win over France’s left

© Bertrand Guay, AFP | Presidential hopeful Benoît Hamon waves to supporters before winning the first round of France’s left-wing presidential primary on January 22, 2017

Manuel Valls and Benoît Hamon emerged Sunday as first-round winners of the left’s presidential primaries. While Valls is seen as a law-and-order strongman, Hamon is viewed as a moderniser who advocates new ideas like a universal basic income.


Results from France’s vote on Sunday showed that Hamon scored just over 36.2 percent of the vote with Valls at approximately 31.1 percent -- the two Socialist Party members are now set for a run-off vote on January 29.

Hamon, 49, is a relatively unknown political figure who has served as a junior minister - and briefly as education minister - under President François Hollande. An admirer of US firebrand Bernie Sanders, Hamon stepped into the political spotlight in August last year by becoming the first to launch a presidential bid.

Long considered by the media as a distant “third man”, he appears to have received an eleventh-hour boost in popularity. In the run-up to the first round, opinion polls surprised many by forecasting that he would secure a second place in Sunday’s vote, after Valls. But he went on to win.

Spanish-born Valls, 54, has a wealth of political experience, having served as Hollande’s interior minister between 2012 and 2014 and as prime minister until December last year when he announced he would run for president.

Valls, a staunch Hollande ally, is often described as a self-styled law-and-order strongman who used decrees to push through controversial labour reforms during his two-and-a-half years as prime minister. He was also behind a failed proposal to strip dual-nationality terrorists of their French citizenship.

Valls is considered a divisive figure on the left and faces the delicate task of having to defend his record in the unpopular outgoing government while also promising something radically new.

Valls has an unusual background for a French politician in that he fled Franco's dictatorship in Spain when he was a teenager and only gained French citizenship at the age of 20. If elected president, he would be the first president who was not born in French.

Heart or law and order?

Campaigning under the banner “Make France’s heart beat” (Faire battre le coeur de la France), Hamon has cast himself as a moderniser firmly rooted in the left, placing social and environmental issues at the heart of his mandate. Hamon says the digital age calls for a new social model in which the resulting shrinking workload is spread out more, people get more leisure time, and companies who use robots to replace employees pay taxes on the wealth they create. And while critics say France’s 35-hour work week is too short, he wants to cut it further.

Central to Hamon’s programme is also the introduction of a universal basic income of around €750 a month, which would be paid to every single French citizen aged 18 and over, regardless of whether or not they are employed.

He has signalled that this should be progressively implemented, to be fully in place by 2022 and paid for with increased wealth taxes.

Hamon argues that it would boost growth and employment, while lowering poverty and cutting government red tape by replacing complex unemployment benefit schemes with a single pay-out to everyone.

He also openly supports the legalisation of cannabis.

Valls, meanwhile, is campaigning under the slogan “A strong Republic, a fair France” (Une République forte, une France juste).

Leaving the post of prime minister in December last year following Hollande’s announcement that he would not run for a second term, Valls has had considerably less time than his rivals to prepare for his presidential bid.

Seen by many as a centrist, Valls has promised to boost public spending, hike teachers’ pay and pump money into France’s cash-strapped universities. Many of his pledges contradict his record in office, however, including his plan to scrap the so-called 49-3, a notorious clause in the French constitution that allows governments to force through legislation without a vote - and which he repeatedly used.

Valls has also pledged to lower taxes for middle-class households, to increase the minimum income and to boost both the country’s police and military.

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