Fil­lon tipped to win French rightwing pri­mary

Fa­vorite for next year’s elec­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Mil­lions of French vot­ers were cast­ing bal­lots yes­ter­day to pick the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for the cen­ter-right Repub­li­cans party, with ex-premier Fran­cois Fil­lon tipped to win and be­come fa­vorite for next year’s elec­tion.

The US-style pri­mary con­test, the first for the party, is a bat­tle be­tween so­cially con­ser­va­tive and eco­nomic “rad­i­cal” Fil­lon and the more mod­er­ate Alain Juppe, also a for­mer prime min­is­ter who is nine years older at 71.

The French pres­i­den­tial vote is seen as a key test for main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties af­ter the suc­cess of Don­ald Trump in the United States and the Brexit cam­paign in Bri­tain, both of which har­nessed anti-elite, anti-es­tab­lish­ment anger. Polls opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT), with all French vot­ers who pay two eu­ros ($2.10) and state they share the val­ues of the cen­treright al­lowed to cast a bal­lot. Who­ever wins will face fierce com­pe­ti­tion from far-right Na­tional Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is wait­ing in the wings ready to at­tack the vic­tor as a sym­bol of France’s rul­ing class. Fil­lon, a ca­reer politi­cian and prime min­is­ter from 2007-12, has warned that France is “on the verge of re­volt” and be­lieves his plan to slash 500,000 pub­lic sec­tor jobs and busi­ness reg­u­la­tions is the tonic the de­mor­alised coun­try needs. “I’ll do ev­ery­thing for en­trepreneurs!” he de­clared at his fi­nal rally on Fri­day night in Paris, promis­ing to help busi­nesses cre­ate the jobs needed to lower France’s stub­bornly high unem­ploy­ment rate of around 10 per­cent.

The de­vout Catholic and motor rac­ing fan has also won sup­port with his hard line on Mus­lim im­mi­grants, as well as an em­pha­sis on pro­tect­ing France’s iden­tity, lan­guage and fam­ily val­ues.

He de­manded Fri­day that “the Is­lamic re­li­gion ac­cept what all the others have ac­cepted in the past... that rad­i­cal­ism and provo­ca­tion have no place here.”

Juppe, mean­while, has made a pitch for the cen­tre-ground, ac­cus­ing his op­po­nent of want­ing to re­form France with “bru­tal­ity” with an un­re­al­is­tic pro­gram that has drawn sup­port from the far-right.

As well as promis­ing to shrink the French state, Juppe’s sig­na­ture an­nounce­ment was a prom­ise to seek a “happy iden­tity”for mul­ti­cul­tural France de­spite wor­ries about the threat of im­mi­gra­tion and Is­lamic ex­trem­ism. “I am best placed with my pro­gram to beat Marine Le Pen,” Juppe said on the last day of cam­paign­ing on Fri­day.

He has also sought to high­light Fil­lon’s con­ser­va­tive views on abor­tion and gay mar­riage, as well as his close­ness to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin who praised Fil­lon last week as a “very prin­ci­pled per­son”. But it is Fil­lon who has all the mo­men­tum head­ing into Sun­day’s run-off vote.

He won the first round of the pri­mary last Sun­day with 44 per­cent and has since picked up en­dorse­ments from party heavy­weights in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, who was knocked out last week­end in per­haps a fi­nal blow to his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

Sev­eral sur­veys last week fore­cast Fil­lon to emerge as win­ner on Sun­day with around 60 per­cent, but af­ter a topsy-turvy year that has made fools of an­a­lysts and poll­sters, no one should take his vic­tory for granted.

Un­pre­dictable elec­tion

As well as Le Pen, Sun­day’s win­ner will face com­pe­ti­tion in next year’s vote from a So­cial­ist party can­di­date, prob­a­bly Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande who ap­pears in­tent on try­ing to defy his his­tor­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings. Af­ter a trou­bled five years in power, a sur­vey on Fri­day showed cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls would be a far more pop­u­lar can­di­date than Hol­lande.

Valls did not ex­clude mak­ing a run at the can­di­dacy in the so­cial­ist pri­mary, say­ing “I will make my de­ci­sion with a clear con­science”, in an in­ter­view pub­lished by weekly Jour­nal du Di­manche.

Hol­lande’s for­mer pro­tege and econ­omy min­is­ter, 38-year-old Em­manuel Macron, is also set to stand for the pres­i­dency as a cen­trist in­de­pen­dent, in­ject­ing some youth and an­other el­e­ment of un­cer­tainty into the race.

Far-left can­di­date Jean-Luc Me­lan­chon is also likely to draw votes away from main­stream par­ties in a trend seen in elec­tions across Europe fol­low­ing years of aus­ter­ity and anger over glob­al­iza­tion and job losses.

Cur­rent polls fore­cast that Le Pen and the Repub­li­cans’ can­di­date will make it through to the fi­nal run-off round of the elec­tion in May, with the lat­ter set to win by draw­ing mod­er­ate vot­ers from the right and left to block the far-right. —AFP

PARIS: French mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and can­di­date for the right-wing pri­maries ahead of the 2017 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Fran­cois Fil­lon (C) looks on be­fore cast­ing his bal­lot in a polling sta­tion on Novem­ber 27, 2016. —AFP

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