Leftist newcomer takes lead in French Socialist primary
By Eric Maurice
Newcomer Benoit Hamon and former prime minister Manuel Valls qualified on Sunday (22 January) for the second round of France's left-wing presidential primary, in a contest that will shape the future of the ruling Socialist Party.
Hamon, a 49-year old former MEP and former education minister, came first of the primary's first round with 36.35 percent of the votes, ahead of Valls with 31.11 percent.
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Arnaud Montebourg, a former finance minister and one-time frontrunner, came third with 17.52 percent. Four other candidates ended up with less than 7 percent of the votes.
The winner of the run-off next Sunday (29 January) will be the Socialist Party's candidate for the presidential election in April.
Hamon's lead and Montebourg's score suggest that a majority of the party want to break with policies chosen by Valls and president Francois Hollande and take a turn to the left.
Both Hamon and Montebourg left the government in 2014 after they strongly criticised Hollande and his economic and social policies, which they said were too liberal and contrary to what he had promised when elected.
Montebourg said on Sunday that the primary's results were a condemnation of Hollande's five years in power. He called on his voters to vote for Hamon in the run-off.
"You have sent a clear message of hope and renewal," Hamon told his supporters, adding that it was a vote "of conviction, not resignation".
New model of development
He said France should break with "old recipes, old politics and old solutions that don't work" and that the priority should be "a new model of development".
"The social issue and the ecological issue [are] the two parts of a new project that turns to the future. Not one or the other, but one and the other," he said.
A relatively unknown politician, Hamon rose during the campaign thanks to a proposition for a universal basic revenue, €750 that would be paid each month to all French people when they are 18.
The measure has highlighted the rift within the Socialist Party between the left of the party - now led by Hamon - and the social-liberals who pushed for a reform of the labour market and deficit reduction under Hollande.
The rift was the main reason why Hollande's approval rating fell below 15 percent and he quit the race for re-election. It will also make difficult for Valls, who stepped in after Hollande's renunciation, to win the primary.
Valls said on Sunday that the choice between him and Hamon next Sunday was "very clear".
"[it is] the choice between an assured defeat [at the presidential election] and possible victory. A choice between promises that cannot be realised and cannot be funded, and a credible left that takes its responsibilities," he said.
Valls, who as prime minister until December governed under a state of emergency following terror attacks, is also considered tougher than Hamon on law and order issues and the defence of French secularism against Islam.
Melenchon and Macron
The Socialists' infighting over their political line will produce a candidate that will have to find a space between other left-wing candidates who did not compete in the primary.
Radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon and social-liberal Emmanuel Macron so far seem to attract voters who want more leftist policies or more liberal-inspired reforms to modernise the country.
Melenchon, a long-time opponent of Hollande and Valls, and Macron, who resigned as finance minister only last summer, both say there are an alternative to whatever candidate the Socialist Party will present.
In the most recent poll, Melenchon and Macron fared respectively at 13-14 percent and 18-20 percent of voting intentions for the presidential election. Hamon was at 8 percent and Valls at 9 percent.
Far ahead were the two candidates who are until now the favourites to qualify for the second round of the presidential election in May. Far-right Marine Le Pen was at 27 percent, centre-right Francois Fillon at 25-26 percent.