French con­ser­va­tives rally vot­ers in tight pri­maries race

‘This is not Amer­ica’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The race for France’s conservative pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion looked tighter than ever yes­ter­day, with vot­ing due to be­gin within 24 hours and polls sug­gest­ing who­ever emerges on top will make it all the way to the El­y­see Palace.

Ahead of to­day’s vote, which will select two can­di­dates for the de­ci­sive Nov. 27 sec­ond round, cen­trist Alain Juppe had lost most or all of his early polling lead as his fel­low for­mer prime min­is­ter Fran­cois Fil­lon en­joyed a late surge.

Af­ter Bri­tain’s shock “Brexit” vote in June and last week’s elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent, the French elec­tion next spring will be the next test of strength be­tween weak­ened main­stream po­lit­i­cal forces and ris­ing pop­ulist in­sur­gents. Opin­ion polls have for months sug­gested that far-right Na­tional Front leader Marine Le Pen will make it to the de­ci­sive run-off in May, but that Juppe would beat her if he won the conservative Les Repub­li­cains nom­i­na­tion.

His lead, how­ever, has been eroded by two party ri­vals to his right - ex-pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy and Fil­lon, who served as Sarkozy’s prime min­is­ter from 2007-2012. “I can sense a sur­prise com­ing,” Fil­lon told sup­port­ers at a rally on Fri­day in Paris. He urged them to “shake up” the pri­maries, win­ning wide ap­plause and shouts of “Fil­lon for pres­i­dent” from a crowd of over 3,000.

Long trail­ing in the polls, Fil­lon has come from be­hind in the past week, mak­ing the race even harder to call. He was judged the win­ner of Thurs­day’s final tele­vised de­bate be­fore the week­end vote, an opin­ion poll showed.

“I’m not Hil­lary”

Any­one can vote in the pri­mary, in which there are seven can­di­dates, which opens an al­ready un­pre­dictable con­test to tac­ti­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion by left-lean­ing and far-right vot­ers. Lack of con­fi­dence in poll­sters, who failed to pre­dict Trump’s win and Bri­tain’s vote to quit the Euro­pean Union, has deep­ened un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the conservative and So­cial­ist pri­maries as well as the elec­tion it­self.

But Juppe was con­fi­dent on Fri­day that no such up­set will hap­pen. “I am not Hil­lary Clin­ton,” he said on pub­lic ra­dio, “and France is not Amer­ica”. Un­der un­pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, France’s rul­ing So­cial­ists are deeply di­vided and seen as un­likely to get past the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion’s first round next April. That would clear the way for who­ever clinches the conservative nom­i­na­tion to face Le Pen in the de­cid­ing vote.

Juppe is seek­ing to draw sup­port from cen­trists and left-wing vot­ers de­ter­mined to prevent a Sarkozy come­back or Le Pen’s Na­tional Front from win­ning power.

Sarkozy, whose cam­paign has em­pha­sised law and order, mocked Juppe at a rally in Nimes, south­ern France, for be­ing too “soft”. “I will be the pres­i­dent who re-es­tab­lishes the au­thor­ity of the state,” he said.

Some mar­ket an­a­lysts have started tak­ing more se­ri­ously the pos­si­bil­ity Le Pen could be­come pres­i­dent, an event some be­lieve could weaken or break up the Euro­pean Union and the euro zone.

But polls have con­sis­tently shown her fall­ing short. The elec­toral sys­tem re­quires her to win over 50 per­cent of votes in a sec­ond-round runoff, and she has per­sis­tently polled only around 30. French poll­sters have in re­cent elec­tions also tended to over­es­ti­mate her ap­peal rather than un­der­play it. But should Sarkozy or Fil­lon emerge as her conservative op­po­nent, polls and an­a­lysts suggest, Le Pen’s elec­toral prospects would im­prove.

In a note af­ter Thurs­day’s TV de­bate, Charles Lich­field of Eura­sia Group gave Le Pen a 25 per­cent like­li­hood of vic­tory against Juppe. But her chances would jump to 35 per­cent against Sarkozy or Fil­lon, he said, re­flect­ing their lack of ap­peal beyond the right-wing elec­torate. —Reuters

PARIS: A com­bi­na­tion of pic­tures cre­ated on Novem­ber 19, 2016 shows three can­di­dates for the right-wing Les Repub­li­cans (LR) party pri­maries ahead of the 2017 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion (LtoR) for­mer Prime min­is­ter and mem­ber of the par­lia­ment Fran­cois Fil­lon, for­mer Prime min­is­ter and Bordeaux’s mayor Alain Juppe, and for­mer French pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy. —AFP

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