Former Socialist PM Valls backs centrist Macron for French presidency
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French former Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday he would vote for centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron rather than Socialist contender Benoît Hamon, who had trounced him in a left-wing primary earlier this year.
Valls, a Socialist himself, said the election was wide-open and he would to do all he could to ensure that far-right leader Marine Le Pen, second-placed in opinion polls, did not clinch power on May 7.
"I'm not going to take any risks," Valls told BFM TV.
Macron, who quit the Socialist government last year to run as an independent, has drawn support from politicians on both sides of the political spectrum and is favoured by opinion polls to win the election.
He had previously pledged to respect the outcome of the primary organised by France's ruling party in January, in which he was surprisingly - and decisively - defeated by Hamon.
Valls is now expected to wait in the wings and seek to build a reformist parliamentary force that would be distinct from Macron’s En Marche! (Forward) movement, but which could get a say in its parliamentary majority should Macron become president.
"I have nothing to negotiate and am not asking for anything, I'm not joining his camp," Valls said.
Macron was also quick to say that while he was grateful for the support, he did not plan to bring Valls into his government.
"I shall be the guarantor of new faces, new ways of doing things," he said on Europe 1 Radio.
Valls' endorsement is a mixed blessing for Macron, even though their political views are not far apart.
The ex-investment banker, who has never run for elected office before, has sought to avoid being cast as the candidate of the unpopular outgoing Socialist administration.
Instead, he has pitched himself as the only one who can overhaul France’s political system and bridge the left-right political divide.
Valls’ move has also irked many in the Socialist Party, who already blamed the former PM for the rightward turn taken by President François Hollande’s administration midway through its five-year term, which alienated core voters.
The rancour in the party came across in the reaction from Arnaud Montebourg, a leftist who was Macron's predecessor as economy minister under Hollande.
"Everybody now knows the value of a solemn commitment by a man like Manuel Valls," he said on Twitter. "It's the value of a man who has no honour."
Hamon, a former education minister, signed a motion of no-confidence against Valls' government last year, when the ruling Socialists split over a divisive labour reform led by Valls.
"I'm not surprised," Hamon told France 2 television on Wednesday. "This sort of soap opera is meant to weaken me. I'm running my campaign by talking about the French people's daily life, not Valls' life."
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)