Sarkozy un­der pres­sure as French right holds pres­i­den­tial pri­mary

Late chal­lenge from an out­sider

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS: French vot­ers went to the polls yes­ter­day for the first round of a US-style pri­mary to choose a rightwing can­di­date for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, with for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy and ex-prime min­is­ter Alain Juppe fac­ing a late chal­lenge from an out­sider. A last-minute surge in the opin­ion polls by Fran­cois Fil­lon, who was prime min­is­ter un­der Sarkozy, showed he was in con­tention to grab one of the top two spots for next Sun­day’s runoff. It is the first time the French right has held such a pri­mary. The out­come is cru­cial be­cause with the French left di­vided, the conservative can­di­date who emerges is tipped to take the pres­i­dency in May af­ter beat­ing far­right leader Marine Le Pen. Some vot­ers sur­veys at the end of cam­paign­ing put 62-year-old Fil­lon nearly level with Sarkozy, 61, and Juppe, the 71year-old po­lit­i­cal vet­eran who had been the fron­trun­ner for the past two months. Juppe’s strat­egy of play­ing the mod­er­ate against the fiery Sarkozy and the re­form-minded Fil­lon ap­pears to have back­fired. The vote is not re­stricted to right-wing vot­ers. An un­known fac­tor is how many left-lean­ing sup­port­ers will take part af­ter pay­ing two Euros ($2.1) and sign­ing a dec­la­ra­tion that they sub­scribe to “the val­ues of the cen­ter and the right”.

One such So­cial­ist voter, a sports teacher in his fifties who iden­ti­fied him­self only as Eric, said yes­ter­day he was vot­ing “against Sarkozy”. “I’m fed up of that guy, he thinks he is all-pow­er­ful and he has been in­volved in too many scan­dals. Juppe, de­spite ev­ery­thing else, is the op­po­site,” he told AFP as he cast his vote in the Paris sub­urb of Pantin.

In a final TV de­bate of the seven can­di­dates on Thurs­day, Sarkozy an­grily ducked a ques­tion about fresh claims that he re­ceived mil­lions in fund­ing from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kad­hafi to­wards his 2007 cam­paign.

The case is one of sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions to dog Sarkozy since he left of­fice in 2012, los­ing to the So­cial­ist Fran­cois Hol­lande fol­low­ing what was dubbed a “bling-bling” pres­i­dency be­cause of his flashy life­style. The three lead­ing can­di­dates have sim­i­lar pro­grams, un­der­pinned by pledges to re­in­force do­mes­tic se­cu­rity in a coun­try still un­der a state of emer­gency fol­low­ing the ji­hadist at­tacks. They also share a de­sire to re­in­force Euro­pean bor­ders and re­duce im­mi­gra­tion, while tax cuts also loom large. Ul­ti­mately, the choice will come down to style. Sarkozy has em­pha­sized his tough-guy cre­den­tials, say­ing it makes him a bet­ter choice than the mild-man­nered Juppe to safe­guard France’s po­si­tion in an un­cer­tain world fol­low­ing the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump in the United States.

Fil­lon, who is pop­u­lar in the busi­ness world, has promised “rad­i­cal” eco­nomic mea­sures but is the most conservative of the three on so­cial is­sues. The nom­i­na­tion of the right-wing can­di­date on Novem­ber 27 is ex­pected to trig­ger an an­nounce­ment from Hol­lande on whether he in­tends to bid for re-elec­tion de­spite the lowest pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings of any post-war French pres­i­dent. On Wed­nes­day, Hol­lande’s for­mer econ­omy min­is­ter Em­manuel Macron, 38, an­nounced he would stand as an in­de­pen­dent. Polls Sun­day close at 1800 GMT, with the first in­di­ca­tion of the out­come ex­pected around 2130

PARIS: For­mer French pres­i­dent and can­di­date for the right-wing Les Repub­li­cains (LR) party pri­mary ahead of the 2017 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Ni­co­las Sarkozy (C), flanked by LR deputy Claude Goas­guen (R) casts his vote in a bal­lot box at a polling sta­tion yes­ter­day.—AFP

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