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Socialist Hamon seeks to unify French left after clinching presidential primary

AFP | Benoit Hamon celebrates victory in France's left-wing presidential primary on January 29, 2017.

Socialist Benoît Hamon clinched his party’s presidential nomination on Sunday but now faces an uphill battle to unify France’s left with less than three months to go before elections for the nation’s highest office.


Hamon, 49, capped off last week’s surprise victory in the first round of France’s left-wing presidential primary with a decisive win against former prime minister Manuel Valls in the run-off.

A former education minister who quit Valls’s government two years ago in protest of its pro-business slant, Hamon claimed around 59 percent of second-round votes on Sunday, easily beating his former boss, who earned 41 percent support.

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And our time has come,” Hamon said, quoting French literary great Victor Hugo as he addressed jubilant supporters in central Paris.

He said he would immediately turn his attention to uniting the deeply divided Socialist Party – whose fracture lines were once more exposed during the primary – but also to finding common ground with leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Green Party (EELV) candidate Yannick Jadot.

“I will propose to them that we build a coherent and durable government majority," Hamon added in his short victory speech.

Valls also appeared ready to mend ties, wishing his in-party rival “good luck”, and admitting Hamon was “the candidate of our political family, now charged with the beautiful task of uniting us”.

The endorsement stood in sharp contrast to Valls’s accusations that Hamon was peddling “dreams” to French voters during the primary campaign.

Hamon, who has been compared to British Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn, wants to gradually introduce a “universal income” for every French person regardless of employment status or wealth. He also supports legalising marijuana and cutting the French work-week from 35 hours to just 32.

‘Not ready’ to back Hamon

Hamon and Valls briefly reappeared together later on Sunday evening for a handshake in front of photographers, but doubts remained over Hamon’s chances of bringing Socialists – or other French left-wingers – together.

France 24's Catherine Nicholson with Hamon supporters in Paris

While Hamon represented the disenfranchised left-wing branch of the ruling Socialist Party, Valls introduced a handful of reforms more closely associated with French conservatives, including a controversial labour law last year giving more power to bosses to fire workers.

“Valls did give his support to Benoît Hamon but we can be pretty sure that many in the Socialist Party will now perhaps feel free to actually support [ex-budget minister] Emmanuel Macron, who was not even a candidate of the Socialist Party,” FRANCE 24’s James Creedon, reporting from Valls’s campaign headquarters, said.

Macron, a former investment banker-turned politician, has gained wide attention by running as an independent centrist. He supports deregulation of France’s economy, but is considered liberal on social issues.

Although he served as a minister under President François Hollande and Valls, he shunned the left-wing primary.

Pierre, an 18-year-old Valls campaigner, was among the Socialists now hesitating to throw their weight behind Hamon. “I need at least a few days to think,” he told FRANCE 24 immediately after Valls conceded defeat and endorsed Hamon.

“It’s a choice that impacts all of France and should not be taken lightly. This has been a hard campaign and I’m going to wait for the dust to settle before making any choice,” he said, but adding he would never vote for Macron.

Opinion polls show Hamon has only a small chance of advancing to the second round of France’s presidential election this spring.

He is on pace to win 13 percent of votes in the first round of the poll on April 23, a Kantar-Sofres-OnePoint opinion poll revealed on Sunday.

That would put him behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen (25 percent), conservative presidential nominee François Fillon (21 percent) and Macron (20 percent). Only the two top candidates advance to the presidential run-off, scheduled for May 7.

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